Registered voters total down by 11% in NI
The North's political parties will be given access today to the latest electoral register, compiled under new anti-fraud rules, which shows a drop in voter registration of some 130,000, or 11 per cent. The drop is almost 20 per cent in west Belfast. It is the first register to be compiled under the new strict Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act, 2002, which came into force last May and was published just after midnight.
The new Act seeks to reduce voter fraud by insisting on stronger voter identification at registration and at polling stations. The old system whereby the head of household completed registration on behalf of all over the age of 18 at a particular address is replaced by a system which requires individual applications supported by date of birth, national insurance number and a signature. Photo-ID will also be required at polling stations when a ballot paper is requested.
Voter registration is ongoing, but the new register shows a marked decline in numbers from the last elections for Westminster and local councils on June 7th, 2001.
The loss of nearly a fifth of Mr Gerry Adams's constituents is unlikely to affect the outcome of a Westminster election were one to be held soon. The Sinn Féin president took a 66 per cent share of the vote last year, well ahead of the SDLP's Mr Alex Attwood who garnered 18 per cent.
Constituencies which show the smallest decrease in registration are west of the Bann. All four Belfast Westminster constituencies show significant drops. Belfast East is down nearly 8,000 to 50,914, Belfast North is down some 11,000 to just 49,899 and Belfast South is down to 49,303 from 59,436 last time.
This could add to current pressures for a redrawing of the North's electoral boundary map. As things stand, Belfast is over-represented relative to constituencies outside the city. One argument proposes reducing the number of Westminster seats in Belfast to three - which is opposed by politicians. The counter-argument calls for expansion of the Belfast constituencies to include the suburbs and nearby dormitory towns, thus easing pressure on the rural constituencies around Belfast.