Proposals for ‘most significant electoral reform in decades’ published

Legislative proposals to reform the electoral process, including by establishing an Electoral Commission for Ireland, regulating online advertising and amending the law to reflect Covid-19 restrictions, have been published.

The general scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill, described as the “most significant development for our electoral system in decades”, also includes provisions to modernise the electoral registration process.

Announcing the bill, Local Government Minister Darragh O’Brien said: “I am truly delighted, along with Minister Noonan, to be driving the government’s electoral reform agenda forward, delivering on commitments made in the Programme for Government – Our Shared Future. The Electoral Reform Bill will be the most significant development for our electoral system in decades.”

Malcolm Noonan, minister of state with responsibility for electoral reform, added: “These reforming measures are essential in order to strengthen our electoral system. We live in an evolving society, and the electoral system must evolve with it. We are working to both respond to the challenges we face now, and build measures and capacity to anticipate and address the challenges which we will face in the future.”

The proposed Electoral Commission will be independent of government, reporting directly to the Oireachtas. It will take on several existing statutory electoral functions from the outset, including responsibility for the registration of political parties, the work currently carried out by Referendum Commissions, Constituency Commissions and Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees.

In addition, it will have responsibility for the regulation of online political advertising during electoral periods, oversight of the electoral register, and a new public information, research and advisory role in relation to electoral matters.

The commission’s membership will be comprised of a mix of public officials experienced in carrying out electoral functions and experts selected via a public competitive process.

The modernisation of the electoral register will see the simplification of forms and the registration process, including an online option, a rolling (continuously updated) register, a move to a single, national electoral register and the introduction of provisional registration for 16-17 year-olds which would become active at the age of 18.

The bill will provide that online paid-for political advertisements commissioned for use during electoral periods will be required to be clearly labelled as such. The advertisements will display specified information by way of a transparency notice, linked to the advertisement in a transparent and conspicuous manner. The transparency notice will include information on who paid for the advertising, details of any micro-targeting which was applied and the total cost of the advertising.

In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, the general scheme includes provision to hold a poll over more than one day to assist with social distancing at polling stations and flexibility to returning officers to provide a postal vote to those on the special voters list if nursing homes and hospitals are inaccessible at the time of an electoral event.

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