The 5 May 2016 saw the fifth election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Over 1.2 million people were registered to vote ahead of the election and a total 703,744 ballots were cast on the day itself.
Our report on the administration of the election, published today, finds that the election was well run, with voters reporting high levels of confidence and satisfaction with both registration and voting processes.
It should also be noted that, unlike in 2011 and 2014, nobody was talking about the management of the count or the time taken to complete counting in May. This is down to the significant improvements made by the Chief Electoral Officer to the count process. Changes to staff training, communications, use of new venues and changes to the verification and primary staff all contributed to a much more efficient and transparent count. It is right therefore to congratulate the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff for their hard work in delivering a successful election and we would encourage them to continue to build on this good work.
We have today also published our report into the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register in Northern Ireland. It provides a snapshot of the health of the electoral register as it stood in December 2015, and follows similar reports we published in 2008 and 2012.
It’s encouraging and pleasing to report that both the accuracy and completeness of the registers in Northern Ireland have improved since our previous study in 2012. This is in part due to a full canvass of electors taking place in autumn 2013, and also to the improvements made by the Chief Electoral Officer in how he handles and uses data available to him to manage the register.
However this report also highlights that there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that the register is as up to date and complete as possible, particularly for the next set of planned elections in 2019. While changes to the management of the register have improved some of the processes involved in continuous registration, it is still struggling to keep up with the pace of population movement. Furthermore our research shows that there has been a decline in the completeness of 16 and 17 year old attainers on the register since 2012.
Given this we welcome the upcoming introduction of online electoral registration in Northern Ireland. Its success in Great Britain has been clear since it was introduced there in 2014 and it should assist in improving the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register particularly amongst our younger voters.
However, online registration on its own will not be the solution to improving the management of the electoral register. While the Chief Electoral should continue to review and improve his procedures for managing the electoral register we believe that the long term solution should be the development of more automatic or direct enrolment processes which could have the potential to deliver more accurate and complete electoral registers more efficiently and with fewer resources.
Today we have also repeated our call to the UK Government to introduce legislation to allow the Commission to publish information on how political parties in Northern Ireland are funded. Since November 2007 political parties and regulated donees (such as elected representatives) in Northern Ireland have been required to submit details of donation and loans they have received to the Electoral Commission. As required by law this information is currently not published by us. In contrast details of donations received by candidates contesting the Northern Ireland Assembly election are publically available to view. There is clearly an appetite amongst the public to have more information on how their political parties are funded and now is the time to make progress with this.
Head of Electoral Commission, Northern Ireland