Register for General Election 2016 overstated by almost half a million people

A Newstalk investigation has discovered that there are 488,000 too many people entitled to vote

The electoral register for the upcoming general election is massively overstated by a minimum of half a million people, leaving huge potential for fraud on polling day, an investigation by Newstalk has established.

A comparison of the electoral register with the latest census population figures shows there are more than 488,000 too many people entitled to vote – an overstating of the register by 15%.

According to the most recent census, the number of people aged 18 and over in the country entitled to vote – i.e. Irish and British citizens resident in Ireland - is 3,023,025.

However, in last year’s same sex marriage referendum there were 3,221,681 voting cards issued despite the electorate being restricted to Irish citizens.

That means that a minimum of 200,000 too many people were registered to vote – primarily due to people being on the register for multiple addresses or those who emigrated remaining on the register.

However, the real picture is far worse. That 200,000 figure assumes a 100% registration rate among citizens. That is never the case in any western democracy, where registration is voluntary. In Northern Ireland, where the register was re-drawn from scratch in recent years, using the equivalent of our PPS numbers, registration is just short of 90% of the population.

Even assuming a similar registration rate of 90% south of the border – and the huge investment in the North to developing a centralised voter database has not been replicated in the South – then the register here is overstated by over 488,000 voters. That is the best case scenario. At a registration rate of 85%, the overstating of the register is well over 600,000.

What are the implications of this?

The implications of this are potentially enormous. For starters, the turnout figure for the election is likely to be massively understated – as it has been in every election for the past thirty years.

More importantly, the potential for fraud, through the use of the hundreds of thousands erroneously issued voting cards, is obvious.

“Given that in many elections, a few hundred votes could have changed the outcome of the election, this could have hugely serious consequences. Even if only 0.1% of the overstated portion of the register was inappropriately used this would amount to 500 votes – enough to decide the final seat in many constituencies and the potential the formation of the next government,” said Odran Flynn, Newstalk’s election analyst who carried out the investigation.

Flynn said that based on the 2011 general election figures, the worst affected constituencies were Wexford, Cavan-Monaghan and the Taoiseach’s home constituency of Mayo -all of which were in excess of 20,000 overstated.