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Over €1m wasted on postage due to out-of-date Seanad registers

Candidates for the Seanad’s University panels claim the voting register is badly out of date – wasting thousands in postage costs.

Image: Neil Rickards via Flickr

CANDIDATES IN THE two university constituencies have claimed that the administration of the voting registers for the two constituencies is so poor that the taxpayer is wasting hundreds of thousands of euro in postage fees.

There are around 150,000 people registered to vote in the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin constituencies, but candidates believe that as many as 60 per cent of the registrations are no longer valid – because candidates have either changed address or passed away.

With each candidate entitled to send an election leaflet to every address on the register – and with ballot papers sent by registered post to all names on each register – the total postage cost for each election runs into the millions.

And with so many entries into each register being redundant, because the voter no longer resides at the address to which the ballot is being sent, as much as a million euro – or more – is being spent posting pamphlets and ballot to voters who will never receive them.

There are 97,734 voters on the current edition of the NUI voting register; though nobody from Trinity College had returned contact with to vouch for the current tally on the University of Dublin register, that number was just under 49,000 in 2007.

The taxpayer spent €2.2m on postage costs for the 2007 Seanad elections – with €1.4m of that going towards posting the election leaflets of each candidate to every registered voter, regardless of whether they still reside at the listed address.

If the same cost was repeated this time around, the state could be wasting around €1.3m on such redundant postage.

Dead graduates not removed

One candidate running in the NUI constituency said he had tried to canvass door-to-door on one street in south Dublin – but of the 30 graduates registered to his address, only two still lived at the addresses to which election materials were being sent.

Paul Lynam told that the “discrepancy between the register and the reality on the ground was appalling”, and estimated that the postage costs for sending a litir um thoghacháin – the promotional letter sent by each candidate to every voter, forwarded at public expense – could reach €55,000 per candidate.

“I met one lady who had been trying to get her deceased husband’s name removed from the register for 20 years,” Lynam added, saying that poor management of the register meant that the NUI was “inflicting emotional distress” on the widow every few years.

The state of the NUI register – which is so outdated in some areas, Lynam said, that there are two people on it who graduated from the NUI in 1906 – was symptomatic of the need for a broader reform of how the Seanad was elected.

“All of the colleges take your PPS number on enrolment, to stop you signing on while you’re a full-time student,” another NUI candidate, Daniel Sullivan, said.

“If those PPS numbers were supplied to the Revenue [Commissioners], the NUI could say: ‘These people are graduates,’ and ask for this communication to be sent to each voter’s current address.’”

More graduates, but fewer voters

This proposal would not run into any data protection problems, Sullivan added, because neither institution would be seeking details it doesn’t already have. This system could also help to reverse the ”complete drop-off in the number of registrations in the last 10 to 15 years,” Sullivan said, advocating that all NUI graduates should be automatically added to the register upon graduation.

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The number of registered voters for the NUI panel in the 2007 election was higher than it is for this year’s ballot – despite the fact that the NUI has produced tens of thousands of graduates in the intervening time.

An NUI spokesman said that between 1,300 and 1,500 new graduates were added to the register every year – only a fraction of the total number of students graduating from the NUI’s constituent and recognised colleges, which include UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth.

The spokesman added that the laws governing the elections – the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act, originally written in 1937 with amendments in 1992 and 2001 – required graduates to submit a written form registering for the vote, and therefore barred them from being added automatically.

This could be attributed to the fact that many full-time employees registered to vote were not at home to receive the ballot papers when they were mailed by registered post – a circumstance which meant that many were removed from the register, despite still living at the current address.

The NUI made about 3,000 amendments to its register last year, between voters changing address and others being struck off due to their passing away.

Though the NUI had two staff whose duties included the maintenance of the electoral register, most of the details relating to the upkeep of the register came through the constituent colleges, who informed the NUI centrally of any changes or deaths.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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