12 complaints only the tip of a potential voter impersonation iceberg in Derry: Mark H. Durkan

Mark H Durkan
Mark H Durkan

Foyle MLA Mark. H. Durkan believes the 12 official complaints lodged by disgruntled Derry electors, who claimed their ballot papers weren’t available to them when they turned up at polling stations last week, were merely the tip of a voter impersonation iceberg in the city.

Mr. Durkan expressed his continuing concerns over alleged voter fraud after the Chief Electoral Officer for the North, Virginia McVea, told this paper that the Electoral Office (EONI) was in receipt of just a dozen formal complaints from the Foyle constituency.

That’s just 0.017 per cent of a total body politic in Derry of over 70,000 voters.

But Mr. Durkan said just one stolen vote helped undermine faith in the democratic system.

“People fought for the right to vote, they marched for the right to vote, and many of the people I’ve spoken to, and who were affected, were on those civil rights marches.

“I’m not at all surprised the EONI is downplaying it,” said Mr. Durkan.

“However, there are instances I’m sure that the EONI is not aware of and that the SDLP is not aware of.

“People are so afraid of coming forward and reporting it and it’s something that’s been happening, not just in this election, but in recent elections.”

Voters who believe they have been wrongfully denied their vote are encouraged to submit ‘pink’ draft ballots at polling stations.

Speaking to this paper on Tuesday, Ms. McVea said: “We had 12 people who completed the ‘pink slip’, which, in large measure, means they turned up at the polling station and their votes were not available to them. Mr. Durkan made me aware of another two people who had not completed the pink slip, but who reported similar experiences.”

Ms. McVea said that, while the EONI wanted to eliminate all instances of voter fraud, the number of anomalies in Foyle last week, 12 to 14 instances out of an electorate of 70,324, was very small - 0.017 per cent.

She said each instance of alleged impersonation was a cause for concern and something she took extremely seriously. She also indicated that in Derry there have traditionally been more allegations of voter fraud than elsewhere.

“I can tell you that historically Foyle has had a higher number of pink slips than in other areas where the occurrence level is either zero or single digit figures,” she said.

Ms. McVea said that over the last number of elections allegations of voter impersonation increased from four in the Assembly Election of May 2016, to 10 in the Assembly Election of March 2017, to 12 on Thursday.

She said: “I would just encourage everyone who had any concerns to report the matter to ourselves or the PSNI.”

The PSNI confirmed it was investigating a small number of reports of electoral fraud following EONI referrals.

Mr. Durkan said: “The important thing is for the EONI to take action. That doesn’t even require legislative change. It can be stamped out by simply adding a date of birth to the register. Regardless of the scale of the issue it’s a case of people being denied their right to vote and that’s totally unacceptable.”