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Biggest electoral registration shakeup 'in a century' will see PPS numbers used to verify voter identity

The government says that this is the biggest change to electoral registration since 1918.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IRELAND’S VOTER REGISTRATION system, which critics have labelled as outdated, will be in for major reforms as part of a plan the government is hailing as “ground-breaking”. 

Under the plan, which would mark the greatest shakeup of voter registration in Ireland in over a century, voters’ PPS numbers could be used for verifying their identity while the potential for online registration is also being explored. 

The government argues that the use of PPS numbers is necessary to protect the principle of ‘one person, one vote’. 

In recent years, youth groups and local authorities have repeatedly criticised the electoral register and the system for compiling the voter list as out of date and in need of improvement. 

Last December, the government launched a three-month consultation on reforming the register, which received 187 submissions. 

Under the plans, announced today by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy and Minister for State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan following government approval, the number of forms and the registration process will be simplified while legislative proposals will also be brought forward to create a continuously updated electoral register. 

Alongside the promise of online registration – a move likely to appeal to younger people – the government is also planning to look at pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds so they can be automatically included on the register when they turn 18. 

Those two proposals have been long-standing demands from youth bodies, who have argued that making voter registration easier will mean young people are more likely to vote. 

The reforms also pledge the removal of the ‘edited’ register, which shows who voted in an election and can be bought by any party to be used for marketing. 

There are also plans to create an anonymous system for registration for people whose safety may be at risk. 

The changes, some of which will require new legislation, will require the co-operation of local authorities as well as the consideration of data protection issues.

Phelan said that in response to concerns the government will consider “what minimum data sharing is required to ensure the electoral register and the new proposals on identity verification function properly”.

‘Ground-breaking’

Murphy said that the reforms will be the greatest reform of Irish voter registration since 1918 – an year marked by the extension of suffrage to men over the age of 21 and to women over the age of 30. 

“These changes, which represent the most significant modernisation of the electoral registration process since 1918, will allow for more responsive engagement with the public; more efficient administration and crucially, will protect the integrity of our electoral registration process into the future,” Murphy said. 

Phelan and officials in the Department of Housing will now work on legislation that will bring to put these reforms into effect. 

“The positive feedback from the public and others marked an important step towards this significant decision.  These reforms are about making the registration process more user-friendly and similar to the way people interact with other State services; they reflect changes in how we live today and the public responded positively to that,” he said. 

The government plans to run public information campaigns during the reforms, Phelan said, “so the public is made aware of all changes well in advance”. 

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