I propose to take Questions Nos. 413 and 419 together.
While the existing electoral registration system has served us well and enjoys a high level of public confidence, successive Oireachtas Committees as well as 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 modernisation of the voter registration process. 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 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.
Following an initial consultation with local authorities on a set of policy proposals, I launched a public consultation on the electoral register modernisation project in December 2018. 187 submissions were received from a broad range of stakeholders and a report on the consultation will be published shortly. The seven key policy proposals included in the consultation document are:
- 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, further policy proposals have also been put forward with the aim of making the register more accessible to all citizens. These are:
- 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 16-17 year olds, with the registration becoming active on their 18th birthday.
The responses to the consultation are informing ongoing work in my Department on various aspects of the project, including, most immediately, the development of a simplified, standardised registration form.
As part of the consideration of the provision of an optional online platform for individuals to update their details, my Department is currently working with the Dublin local authorities to arrange an independent evaluation of their Voter.ie platform. This evaluation will assess its suitability for a national roll out. In the run up to the electoral events in May of this year, voter.ie provided Dublin electors with an option to manage their register information online. This was an option, in addition to the standard paper form, available to those with a Public Services Card and a related MyGovID. Dublin City consider the pilot to have been a success with some 16% of applications being made via the portal.
The Government will shortly consider this suite of policy proposals set out in the consultation document and the responses received. Preparation of a General Scheme of an Electoral Amendment Bill will then be progressed as soon as possible to give legislative effect to the proposals agreed by Government.