Long-awaited electoral commission may become reality with new Bills

Teenagers can ‘pre-register’ to be automatically on electoral register when they turn 18

Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy will seek Cabinet approval in the next two weeks for the Register of Electors Bill to reform and modernise the electoral register. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy will seek Cabinet approval in the next two weeks for the Register of Electors Bill to reform and modernise the electoral register. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Teenagers under 18 will be able to pre-register to vote so that they are automatically included on the electoral register when they reaching voting age, under proposed new legislation.

Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy will seek Cabinet approval in the next two weeks for the Register of Electors Bill to reform and modernise the electoral register.

He will also bring legislation to Government, the Electoral Commission Bill, to introduce a long-awaited electoral commission.

After almost four years of preparation the Electoral Commission Bill will create a new authority which will have responsibility for and control of all matters relating to voting and the administration of elections and referendums.

Teenagers from 16 upwards will be able to pre-register so that when they turn 18, the legal age for voting, they are automatically included on the register.

The new system will make it easier for the electorate to move their vote when they move house and it aims to eliminate a system where someone has a vote in a number of locations.

This frequently occurs with students moving from home to college who register where they are studying but remain on the register in their home place.

The Bill will also end the supplementary register system, under which voters not previously registered can apply to vote but face a cut-off date of 15 working days before polling. A new system will allow registration days before an election or referendum.

The electoral register is currently maintained by 31 individual local authorities, which each take a unique approach. A few are understood to put much effort and resources into their local authority, checking if voters are still living at listed addresses and investing resources despite having other major demands on their resources.

However, many others does not spend any money at all unless a report is filed about more people living at an address than are on the register.

‘Work of fiction’

Earlier this year a leading academic described election turnout figures as a “work of fiction” because they were based on an inaccurate and unreliable register.

Trinity College emeritus professor of political science Michael Marsh expressed exasperation at the failure of successive governments to address the issue and said there had been endless Oireachtas committee discussions, “but nothing happens”, about creating a permanent electoral commission which would maintain an accurate register.

The process for the new Bill began in 2015 when the then government published a consultation paper and the Oireachtas Environment Committee produced a report the following year after public consultation.

Currently referendum commissions are temporarily created in advance of referendums.