The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, TD, and the Minister of State with Responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD, have today (Friday 8 January) published the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill which provides for a range of significant electoral reforms including:
the establishment of a statutory, independent Electoral Commission for Ireland,
the modernisation of our electoral registration process,
the regulation of online political advertising in the run-up to electoral events, and
amendments to electoral law which will assist in the holding of electoral events if Covid-19 restrictions are in place.
Read the bill here: General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill 2020
Minister O’Brien commented:
“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.”
Minister Noonan 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 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. These functions will give the Commission a central role in our electoral system from the outset, bringing together a broad range of responsibilities.
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, bringing a breadth of relevant skills and experience.
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.
The General Scheme addresses two key items in respect of holding electoral events where Covid-19 restrictions are in place:
provision to hold a poll over more than one day – which would assist with social distancing at polling stations and
giving the 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.
Read the press release here.