Clause 2 - Dates of birth and ballot papers

Part of Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 16th October 2001.

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Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down 5:30 pm, 16th October 2001

I thank the Minister and hon. Members for their comments on the amendment. I shudder to think that there would be an extension of the problem that occurred during the last election, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, East, when some of my constituents queued for over an hour to vote. There were various remedies applied for who was eligible to vote and who was not. Sometimes, those in the building or within the grounds were allowed to vote after 10 pm, and those outside the grounds were not. There were a varied set of circumstances and we do not want to exacerbate problems for the voter or for staff of the electoral office.

The amendment's purpose was to create a deterrent for a would-be fraudulent vote claimer. It is important to remember that it is the representative of the political party who must make the challenge. I assumed that it would be an additional benefit to that person, who is not covered by any legal protection for wrongful arrest, which is the ultimate penalty for calling it wrong. People would be reluctant to fully challenge someone with being a wrong voter, as they could be subject to a charge of illegal arrest if the situation were to reach that point.

I thought that a signature could also be requested, so that it could be checked after the election to see if an act of fraud had been perpetrated. I welcomed the Minister's comments about the paramount importance of photo-identity, and his reassurance that resources will be made available. However, I am concerned about what will happen in the period before the introduction of universal photo-identity, either by way of ID cards for electoral purposes, or other forms of acceptable photo-identity. For a considerable time in the future the medical card and the social benefit card will be employed.