Clause 2 - Dates of birth and ballot papers

Part of Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 16th October 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East 5:15 pm, 16th October 2001

As I understood it, the distinction between amendment No. 19 and new clause 5 was that amendment No. 19 would require a signature only if it were requested by the presiding officer and some doubt was expressed about an individual's identity. I am not sure whether that is true. I have only one concern about the impact of requiring every elector to sign, which relates to difficulties in the polling station.

Most hon. Members found valuable the survey results that the Minister forwarded to provide us with some background information from the 7 June election. One noticeable factor was that there were some areas in Northern Ireland where, although people had presented themselves at polling stations before 10 o'clock at night, they were not able to vote. If the issue had been one of electoral fraud, I would have tabled an amendment to the effect that a person who presents themselves at a polling station before the close of poll should be allowed to vote, even if they were physically to vote after 10 o'clock. The inefficiency of the electoral office in providing the necessary number of booths or staff should not be a determining factor in whether one can exercise one's franchise.

It is also clear from the survey that the overwhelming majority of people who were questioned shared that view. In one area of Castlereagh, in Newtownbreda, which is a middle class area of Northern Ireland, we saw something approaching riots because people had to queue for hours during the day and many were unable to vote because the queues had not diminished by 10 o'clock. The amendment might cause a further delaying factor that could be a disincentive for people coming out or ensure that some people were not be able to vote. I recognise that not every election will be as awkward as that of 7 June, when we had a proportional representation local government election running parallel with a first-past-the-post Westminster election, but the factor causes concern. That would be diminished considerably if this were simply a question of the presiding officer asking for a signature when there is some doubt about the identity of the individual. A signature would be required significantly fewer times, and the measure would be not as problematical.