'Frequent voters' run shy of new North register


More than 130,000 voters have been removed from the electoral register inNorthern Ireland following the introduction of new anti-fraud measures, it wasconfirmed today.

And Sinn Fein President Mr Gerry Adams' constituency of West Belfast haemorrhaged more voters than any other.

More than a tenth of those who voted last year are not currently eligible tovote in Assembly elections scheduled for May next year, figures from theElectoral Office in Belfast revealed.

The total number on the new electoral register is 1,072,346 compared with the1,204,548 people canvassed during the autumn.

The new register is the first produced since requirements were introduced requiring each voter to provide personal identification including date of birthand National Insurance Number in order to register.

Under the new legislation aimed at stamping out "vote stealing" every individual voter had to fill in a form and personally sign it, instead of the previous system under which the head of a household filed for all residents.

Voters will also be required to produce photographic identification on polling days before being allowed to vote.

The greatest fall in the numbers of those registered was in west Belfast, an area which has been at the centre of repeated allegations of vote fraud.

In the constituency, where Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams is the sitting MP, nearly 11,000 voters "disappeared" and just 81.44 per cent of those canvassed registered.

The highest returns were in the west of the province, with Mid Ulster showing a 92.74 per cent return.

However, the figures are not final and a system of rolling registration means voters can still put their names forward.

Northern Ireland minister Mr Des Browne said: "New electoral fraud legislation has been enacted to ensure that everyone entitled is properly included on theregister and can exercise their franchise without fear of losing their vote through fraud."

He said that, coupled with the requirement for photographic ID at polling stations, "it should ensure that the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland are expressed in a fraud-freed environment."

SDLP South Belfast MLA Carmel Hanna described the case of the disappearing voters as "startling".