HC Deb 11 March 1998 vol 308 cc251-2W
Mr. Peter Robinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many applications for postal and proxy votes were received for the Mid-Ulster constituency in the 1997 parliamentary election; how many of these applications were rejected; and for what reasons. [31660]

Marjorie Mowlam

The only statistics available for absent voting for the Mid-Ulster constituency are for the number of approved applications recorded by the Deputy Returning Officer. This is because all applications (whether allowed or not) received for the Parliamentary Elections 1 May 1997, Local Government Elections 21 May 1997 and elections to the Forum in May 1996 were amalgamated at the Electoral Office headquarters after the Local Elections in 1997 to enable a comparative analysis of applications to attempt to identify the apparent level of absent vote abuse. The figures for the Mid-Ulster constituency are as follows:

Postal Votes allowed 3,609
Proxies allowed 1,440
Total 5,049

The determination of the number of such applications disallowed would require the manual checking through all the applications processed for Mid-Ulster and a significant number of applications are still with the police. Therefore, at this stage it is not possible to give figures for the number of applications received and rejected.

Likewise, figures do not exist which outline the reasons why applications for absent votes were rejected in Mid-Ulster. However, there is a breakdown of such information for Norther Ireland as a whole and this is set out in the table:

Parliamentary Election—1 May 1997
Reason Number
Applicant not registered elector 320
Received too late 300
Insufficient or no reason 162
Dual/treble attestation 126
Not attested or not properly attested 145
Not signed 66
Medical reason, non-physical illness 98
Medical (not properly completed) 64
Proxy information not completed 9
Letters returned by Post Office 5
Signature not accepted 3
Too late, received after "late" closing date 3
No date of election given 2
Miscellaneous 115
Total 1,418

Mr. Peter Robinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what investigations the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland carried out after the 1997 parliamentary election to assess the validity of postal and proxy votes cast; and how many of the postal and proxy votes cast in the Mid-Ulster constituency, following these inquiries, were considered to be potentially fraudulent. [31659]

Marjorie Mowlam

The Chief Electoral Officer conducted a comparative analysis of a wide sample of absent vote applications across Northern Ireland for 1 May 1996 Elections, 1 May 1997 General Election and 21 May 1997 Local Government Elections. Applications were sorted alphabetically within wards. This enabled a comparison of forms from each applicant which highlighted any trends in handwriting, conflicting reasons or attestations over the same and adjoining geographical areas and from one election to the next.

The comparative study carried out by the CEO was on a Northern Ireland wide basis and only a sample of wards were investigated, with some Mid-Ulster wards among them. It is therefore impossible to state how many applications were considered fraudulent for the Mid-Ulster constituency. The examination did indicate irregularities in applications for Northern Ireland as a whole.