The head of the Electoral Office has stressed that the removal of more than around 60,000 people from the electoral register ahead of the March election was a legally inevitable measure, after Sinn Fein complained repeatedly about the move in recent days.
The party issued a statement yesterday – its third in as many days mentioning the move – stating that it had been “undemocratic and unfair”.
Chief electoral officer Virgina McVea said the mass removal had been three years in the making, and had only occurred after repeated but unsuccessful attempts had been made to verify the details of all the people involved.
She said the Electoral Office had not made the decision to remove the names from the register; rather, it was written into law that it had to happen.
Sinn Fein’s succession of statements followed concerns being aired about the radical upsurge in proxy votes in Northern Ireland.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had “concerns” about the spike, for which she saw “little rational explanation”, while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “A lot of concern about huge rise of postal & proxy votes in nationalist areas. I can assure people – the SDLP hasn’t been orchestrating it.”
In the latest statement dismissing these concerns yesterday, Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney said: “What I am concerned about is the fact that 60,000 people were unfairly and undemocratically removed from the electoral register last year and almost 4,000 people were turned away from the polls in March as a result.”
He suggested that politicians’ concern should more properly be focused on that, not on the extraordinary rise in proxy voting.
The process of removing the names began in 2013, when a mass canvas of people on the electoral register revealed over 100,000 people whose details could not be confirmed (perhaps, for example, because they had moved address).
After three years of trying to contact all these people, this list was pared down to about 60,000 – who were eventually then removed from the register late last year.
Ms McVea said: “It’s certainly not a matter of discretion. At that point – three years on – it by law had to be done... The Secretary of State was compelled to do that by law, because he must ensure the accuracy of the register.”