Foyle vote theft was co-ordinated, says SDLP MLA

Mark H Durkan claimed more than 20 people 'thus far' had their votes stolen in the Foyle constituency
Mark H Durkan claimed more than 20 people 'thus far' had their votes stolen in the Foyle constituency

The Electoral Commission has been told by an MLA that ‘vote stealing’ by impersonators has been ‘co-ordinated’ in the Foyle constituency.

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan met with the chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland on Tuesday morning and outlined his concerns about “electoral fraud”.

In the general election, just 169 votes separated the Foyle incumbent Mark Durkan, an SDLP colleague and uncle of Mark H Durkan, and the newly elected Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion.

Mark H Durkan said he is now aware of “over 20 people thus far” who he says have had their votes “stolen” by impersonators.

What he believes has been happening is that fraudsters have turned up at polling stations and given the address of a person who happens to have the same name. When electoral officers check the impersonator’s identification, the name matches and they are allowed to cast a vote.

Mr Durkan’s concerns are the latest in a series centred on voting in last week’s general election.

Serious concerns had been raised prior to the election by figures from the DUP and UUP, as well as Mr Durkan, about proxy voting. An analysis by the News Letter found that the surge has been centred largely in more nationalist constituencies, including Foyle.

Mr Durkan told the News Letter on Monday his previous concerns “have been realised”.

Yesterday, he stressed that he is not raising the issues because of the slim margin that prevented his party colleague from being elected.

He said: “There’s nothing to suggest that all those people impacted by this would have voted for the SDLP. This is about the right to vote that the people had stolen from them. It is an attack on democracy.”

Mr Durkan said he is now aware of “over 20” people who have had their votes “stolen”.

After his meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer, Virgina McVea, he said: “They (the Electoral Office) are accepting that there clearly is an issue here but their line is that they don’t think it is widespread.

“We are now talking about a figure of over 20 people, thus far, that it seems have lost their vote through impersonation.

“To me that is hugely significant.”

He continued: “I think that this is a major issue that will certainly shake or at least erode confidence in our electoral system and I don’t think we can allow that to happen.”

Mr Durkan outlined his fears of ‘co-ordination’, saying: “The fact that there were multiple people who all share the same name who this has happened to, I think demonstrates a degree of co-ordination and it also suggests that those responsible would have access to an electoral register.”

Ms McVea sought to downplay any fears that voter fraud in the Foyle constituency was ‘widespread’.

She acknowledged that, in addition to the concerns raised by Mr Durkan during their meeting, the Electoral Office was aware of 12 people having been given ‘pink slips’ that are usually used when somone turns up to vote but is unable to do so.

She added: “Those are the kinds of figures that we are talking about. I am interested in every single case but certainly this does not constitute ‘widespread’.

“I would be very keen in terms of the public interest to make it clear that whilst those figures are very low, we take this extremely seriously.

“Each one is important and I would like to actively encourage people to come forward if they have any concerns or information.”

The PSNI, meanwhile, has confirmed they are investigating “a small number of reports of electoral fraud” .