A Londonderry woman says she was “so angry” that she unexpectedly found herself registered as a proxy voter, with a stranger appointed to go to the polls in her place.
The woman was speaking to the News Letter after new figures revealed a surge in proxy voter registration ahead of the general election, following on from an earlier surge ahead of the Assembly election.
The number of proxy voters has more than doubled since the 2015 general election with rises in some seats which are in particularly close contention – particularly Foyle (see table).
Fresh figures released by the Electoral Office show that the number of proxy votes in Northern Ireland more than doubled to 11,707 for the 2017 General Election, compared to only 5,432 in the 2015 vote.
The proxy voting system allows voters who cannot cast a ballot in person – because they are too ill or are travelling away – to let someone else go in their place.
The Londonderry woman who spoke to the News Letter (and whose identity is being withheld) is a full-time carer for her husband and they both have difficulties getting to the polling station.
When a canvasser whom she knew came to the door with application forms to allow them to cast their vote by post, she took them up on the offer.
But while her husband received confirmation that he would make his own electoral choice by post, she received notification that someone else would go to a polling station on her behalf to vote.
“I don’t even know who they are. I only signed the form to apply for a postal vote,” she said.
“They are going to vote for somebody that maybe I don’t want to vote for. I think I should have made my own choice who I vote for. In a postal vote I can choose for myself.”
She added: “I am just so angry about it.”
A friend of her granddaughter had exactly the same experience, she said. Both women have now made other arrangements to vote.
The same form is used to apply for both postal and proxy votes.
However, last month SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan told the News Letter he believes scammers are ticking the ‘proxy vote’ box only after the voter has signed the form and handed it back.
West Tyrone Westminster candidate and SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said people have been raising concerns about such irregularities with him for some time.
“This is a major abuse of democracy and those responsible should face the full force of the law,” he said.
When it was revealed last month that there had been a steep and sudden surge in proxy voting between the May 2016 Assembly election to the one in March 2017, with the number of registered proxies jumping from 6,622 to 9,920, the DUP said it saw “little rational explanation” for the leap and Jeffrey Donaldson called for an inquiry into it.
But Sinn Fein had slammed the SDLP and DUP for raising concerns on the matter, saying they should focus instead on the voters who were “undemocratically” wiped off the electoral register last year (after the Electoral Office had spent years trying in vain to verify their details).
The PSNI has said it is “investigating a small number of reports of electoral fraud, following referral from the Electoral Office”.
At the time when the News Letter reported on the Assembly surge, the head of the Electoral Office Virgina McVea has said her office “scrutinises applications in accordance with the law” when it comes to proxy votes, and “no systemic practices that are untoward or illegal” had been drawn to her attention.
• The Electoral Office says anyone who has been notified that an unauthorised vote is to be cast in their name should contact it immediately on 0800 4320 712 or 028 9044 6688.