Candidates critical of NUI electoral register

 

SEANAD ELECTION:CANDIDATES ON the National University of Ireland (NUI) panel for next month’s Seanad elections have said people have been removed from its register without realising it and that it has failed to keep pace with changes of address and with deaths of graduates.

As the NUI yesterday began to post out ballot papers to the 97,000 eligible graduates on the register, several candidates criticised what they said were further anomalies in the register.

They were responding to an article in The Irish Times pointing to a sharp decrease in new registrations in recent years, as well as over 100 people who graduated prior to 1930 remaining on the register.

NUI registrar Dr Attracta Halpin said yesterday that all those who graduated before 1930 had been removed from the register in a recent review. Those changes were not reflected in the copy of the register available to graduates, she said.

She also said references in the existing register to two persons who graduated in 1906 were typographical errors. She said one person named had actually graduated in 1986. Dr Halpin did accept there was a decline in the number of graduates registering in recent years, despite an increase in the number of graduates.

Registration figures have fallen dramatically from over 1,500 a year in the late 1990s to 700 in 2009, despite annual graduations rising to almost 10,000.

Registration is not automatic and graduates must apply to be registered. Dr Halpin said it was hard to ascertain why there had been such a decline. “I would accept that only a small proportion of graduates are registering,” she said.

“I can only speculate as to the reasons why. Graduates on graduation do get information. They get a card and also get a link to website. We have very good relationships with alumni offices in each of the universities.”

It has not been possible to maintain a register online, she said, because, under the relevant laws, the NUI needs a confirmation signature to verify each person on the register.

Candidate Dan Sullivan, who conducted extensive research on the register, said the NUI has not acted to the necessary standard one would expect from a public body running an Oireachtas election. He said the NUI has been operating an automatic graduate registration process for its own internal elections, which was far more accurate than its Seanad register. “It is very hard to understand why it is not taking these practicable steps of using the information it has gathered [for internal elections] and which is available to it,” he said.

Another candidate, Peter Mooney, yesterday pointed to a number of people on the register who had died, providing one example of a priest who died in 2006. Mr Mooney also noted big divergences that seemed to favour middle-class areas over working-class areas. He said one road in Dublin 4 with 32 houses had 24 votes, while an estate in Tallaght with 501 houses had a solitary vote.

“You can find voters living at every house in some areas of south Dublin, while other areas like Ballyfermot, Finglas and Tallaght are completely under-represented,” he said.

Candidate Donncha O’Connell also criticised the removal of people from the register, saying there was anecdotal evidence of people being removed without realising it.

“My campaign has been contacted by a significant number of graduates complaining that they have been removed from the register, despite the fact that they voted in previous Seanad elections. This could, of course, be addressed if a supplementary register existed, as is the case for Dáil elections. This isn’t exactly electoral rocket science,” he said.

However, Dr Halpin said the ballot papers were sent out by registered post, as required by law. She said only if ballot papers were returned undelivered in two successive elections was the person struck off the register.

“We make strenuous efforts to make it as up-to-date as we can. We do not take off records without confirmation,” she said.

She said that, unlike the case in Dáil elections, there was no provision for a supplementary register. Only those who registered before February 28th, 2010, are eligible to vote.