I have been pushing for online voter registration for a long while now. As part of the Public Consultation on Proposals to Modernise the Electoral Registration Process I have made the submission below to John Paul Phelan, T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for electoral reform:
Submission Regarding the Public Consultation on Proposals to Modernise the Electoral Registration Process
I am delighted to see that the government is working on proposals to allow for online voter registration and to simplify the registration process.
The current registration process is extremely cumbersome and no longer fit for an era in which moving address has become common. In addition, the multiple forms for changing address, postal voting, etc. are so confusing (not to mention frequently out of date) that many people simply give up on the process in bewilderment. The frequent requirement of Garda verification represents yet another outmoded hurdle.
Furthermore, many people who move to Ireland or become Irish citizens are not aware that they have to register to vote/update the register when they obtain citizenship in order to vote in national elections and referenda.
I was surprised to read in the Consultation document that the local authority calls door-to-door to update the electoral register – I have been living in Ireland for over a dozen years and no one has ever called to my door for this purpose. Additionally, from canvassing myself, I am aware of many people who have applied to join the register, but have not been added and others who are not eligible to vote in certain elections or referenda, having received polling cards (despite not registering). This leads me to believe that the current register is riddled with inaccuracies.
I submit that:
- provision be made to allow citizens and residents to register to vote online
- that once successfully registered, this is verified to the applicant (currently many people are confused as to whether they have been successfully registered to vote – something that ultimately creates unnecessary work for everyone involved)
- that there simply be one ‘Register of Electors’ rather than a Register and Supplemental Register
- that the plans to allow 16-17 year olds to register in advance and have their details go ‘live’ when they turn 18 be adopted
In regards to privacy and using the PPSN as a verification:
In many countries, people do not register separately to vote. After all, as a resident or citizen you pay taxes – at the end of the day, the government knows where to find you; they know whether you are alive, how old you are and what your citizenship is.
In the grand scheme of collected data, the data pertaining to one’s right to vote is minimal and unlike most collected data is used to provide a benefit to the citizen (the ability to participate in politics, however superficial that participation may ultimately be).
The only part of voting that is important to keep anonymous in an electoral democracy is who one voted for – and the proposals here do not affect that at all, as voters will still be voting anonymously on paper in a voting booth.
I therefore support the proposals to use PPSN as verification and to allow voters to opt in to updating the register when updating their details with other government bodies.
As the Consultation paper rightly points out, this also has the advantage of ultimately facilitating homeless persons to vote, as registration would be tied to a personal identifier regardless of address. It is very important that disadvantaged persons are not deprived of their political rights due to an outmoded bureaucracy.
What I do think should stop, and a point that I am glad to see addressed in the Consultation paper, is the ability of third parties to purchase the edited register. My concern here is not that people be able to see whether anyone has voted, but rather the link between a person and their physical address. There is simply no need for this to be available information and many reasons that a person may wish to preserve their privacy.
In addition, the lengthy timeframe envisioned for these reforms is just that: unnecessarily long. It is both possible and desirable that these reforms be concluded in a more timely fashion.
Finally, there needs to be a swift, but stringent, resolution process to deal with any cases of error that might arise. Since people are not in the habit of constantly checking the register to ensure that they remain registered, such errors may go undetected until shortly before polling day. We need to ensure that sufficient resources are devoted to resolving any such discrepancies as soon as they are detected so that no one is deprived of their right to vote due to error.
Dr. Roslyn Fuller
I encourage you to make your own submissions on this topic by March 15th 2019.