I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this issue here today. He is right, as anyone who spends time canvassing the doors knows that the register is not always in perfect condition. One can come across people for different reasons, of their own accord, who may not have taken time out to be registered, or might have tried in the past and failed. There are often complications. They may be on the register but in a wrong way or in the wrong catchment area. I try to engage in door-knocking most weeks all year round, election or no election, which is always an enjoyable experience. When it comes close to an election, people become very concerned if they are not on the register or something has gone wrong with their processing. It is important therefore that we do have that right and up to date. The Senator referred to the turnout for the recent by-elections being low and there can be different reasons for that. If, however, we wish to encourage people to come out and vote, the first step is to ensure that people are registered properly and have the option to vote in the first instance. It is then up to us to convince them to come out and vote for some of us along the way. It is not always about voting for people, as people often vote for other issues as well, such as in referendums and so on. It is important therefore that the register is in order.
While the existing electoral registration system has served us well and enjoys a high level of public confidence, successive Oireachtas committees, as well as Senator Boyhan himself and external reports, have identified a number of improvements that could be made to the process. In March 2017, the Government decided that work should commence on the modernisation of the voter registration process and I believe I also took a debate on this in this House at the time. This project will give effect to improvements that, along with improving our national registration process, could also ultimately facilitate the registration of voters resident outside the State, in the event of the referendum on extending the franchise in presidential elections being passed.
The key policies being proposed are largely based on recommendations by the then Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht in its report on the establishment of an electoral commission published in January 2016. This report considered the electoral register in some detail in the context of it being a function for the proposed electoral commission. The aims of the policy proposals are to enable a better service to the public, modernise the administration of the register and maintain and enhance the integrity of the register, which is of the utmost importance.
Following an initial consultation with local authorities on a set of policy proposals, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, launched a public consultation on the electoral register modernisation project in December 2018. Some 187 submissions were received from a broad range of stakeholders and a report on the consultation will be published very shortly. The seven key policy proposals included in the consultation document were the simplification of the registration process and the forms used, the introduction of a rolling electoral register rather than the current annual one, optional online registration and secure self-service, a move to individual registration only, enabling a single national electoral register database with unique identifiers, a move to verified identity using one's personal public service number, PPSN and the provision for some limited data-sharing between public bodies and electoral registration authorities to maintain accuracy and comprehensiveness.
As well as proposing the removal of the provision that requires an edited register to be produced, three further policy proposals have also been put forward with the aim of making the register more accessible to all. These are the provision of a system of anonymous registration for people whose safety may be at risk if their details are included on the register available for inspection, improved provision for registration for those with no fixed address and pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, with the registration becoming active on their 18th birthday. We are all very familiar when we are out campaigning and one comes across a person who is going to be 18 on the date of the election and would be very anxious to have a vote. Certainly, if they are going to vote for the person canvassing, one would be happy to help that person get that vote. It is important that that is cleared up as well.
The responses to the consultation are informing ongoing work in the Department on various aspects of the project, including, most immediately, the development of a simplified, standardised registration form. The Senator is right in saying that the franchise section of our Department works extremely hard and are very honourable and detailed in their work. It is a busy section but it is committed to doing this, as is the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. We will have a further update for Senator Boyhan shortly.