Electoral Register… a reprise

Bertie Ahern has waded into the fray on the Electoral Register issue.

Some of his comments are, in my personal experience, bizarre. For example, he says “There are still some people who did not answer the door when people called“. I was working from home the day the people called. During the day. When normally my wife and I would be at work. But I was working from home. So when the door bell rang I walked from the kitchen to the hall door (about 30 feet).

By the time I got to the door, the callers were walking out of my driveway to the next house. Total time on doorstep was about 15 seconds. I stood at the door, with the door open, for about five minutes as they walked around my estate. Surprisingly very few people were in when they called, during the day, in an housing estate inhabited by commuters and people who work. Even though I was standing in plain view and to get out of my cul-de-sac they had to walk right past me on the way out none of them thought to stop and ask me anything. So even though I was in, we’re probably logged as a no answer. However, we never received a letter from the Local Authority to verify any of our details.

If people refuse to check the website”… don’t get me started on the bias in that statement. According to the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), Ireland ranks 32nd on the top 32 countries for Internet penetration. As of Sept 2006, the ITU puts us at 50.7% penetration… just behind such technological hotbeds as Estonia (no offence to people from Estonia). Many of those who don’t have Internet access are in the less well off social demographics, the ones most needing effective representation so their interests are met in Government policy. Is it a case of ‘refusing’ to check the website or is it a case of being unable to check the website? For people to be criticised for not following a process, they have to be actually able to follow that process. For shame Taoiseach, for shame.

Of course the Bert is correct..  you can’t force people to go on the Register. And the efforts by the Opposition to point to the removal of people ‘in error’ as being grounds for legal action and a ‘very bad thing’ is, to be honest, somewhat lazy opposing. Given the methodology that was being deployed it was inevitable that some people would be taken off the Register and there has to be an element of personal responsibility here which should compel people to get off their couches and, if they don’t have internet access to go to their local library and check the Register to make sure they’re on it and get their name on before the deadline.

What the Opposition should be focussing on is the absence of any real leadership or activity to address the obviously broken processes that have allowed the Register to get to the state it is in. They should be looking to the cost of non-quality here (how much extra has it cost to do the clean-up, what is the plan to address root causes and avoid that cost in future). For example, could the fact that remain on the Register indefinitely and do not have to re-register periodically be a possible root cause? What about the fact that you can’t change your name on the register without risking being registered twice as the only form available only allows you to change your address.

The fact that at in at least one Local Authority the Obituary pages of the papers were being used to remove deceased persons because they were unaware that they could get the information from the Central Registrations Office is astonishing. What else is going on under the covers?

That would show leadership and credibility in an opposition that should be showing its credentials as planners for the future rather than pursuers of trivial non-issues, collateral damage in pursuit of the objective which was to remove people from the Register to reduce the risk of spurious voter registrations being used to pervert the outcome of the next election.

As it stands, I’m left having to agree with much of Bertie’s defence of Dick Roche. It disturbs me that I can’t find greater affinity with the Opposition on this issue.

The current cleanup will not solve the problem. Personal responsibility to ensure you are registered is not obviated by Government actions. Just because the tools are on the Internet does not mean that people can use them. Deletion of valid voters is a risk in any Electoral Register clean up – the issue is if there is a mechanism that is sufficiently publicised for people to get re-registered. And an Opposition that wants us to see them as potential Government need to attack something meatier than a the non-issue of collateral damage and should target the fundamental lack of vision that seems to underpin the Government’s approach to this whole issue.

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