Record number of postal votes in NI for UK election

There will be a record number of postal votes in Northern Ireland for the UK’s general election next month, the first to be held during the peak summer holiday period since 1945.

More than 25,000 have been issued, a 50% increase since the last general election five years ago.

A record number of proxy votes, where a person can nominate someone they trust to cast their vote, have also been issued.

With the margin of victory likely to be small in a number of key battlegrounds, the postal and proxy votes could be key.

In 2019, Sinn Féin retained Fermanagh and South Tyrone by just 57 votes, the smallest majority in the entire election, while DUP leader Gavin Robinson’s margin of victory over Alliance Party leader Naomi Long in East Belfast was just over 1,800.

The winning margin in South Down was just over 1,600 and South Antrim just over 2,600.

“We’re talking about some really tight contests,” deputy editor of the political website Slugger O’Toole David McCann said.

“So they could be absolutely critical if some of those seats are decided by a few hundred votes.

“That postal vote campaign is going to be absolutely important and that’s why we’ve seen so many parties put so much attention because they don’t want a drop in turn out and they want to make sure their people come out and vote,” he said.

The election is taking place during the traditional Twelfth fortnight, a period when many people on both sides of the political divide opt to leave Northern Ireland.

For most of Northern Ireland’s history, many of its largest employers closed for the two-week Twelfth holiday period.

While employers are no longer so rigid, it remains one of the most popular holiday periods as schools shut their doors in June.

Almost 300,000 people are expected to travel in and out of Northern Ireland during the week of the election.

Applications for postal votes closed on 14 June and the successful applicants have already received special ballot papers.

“The fact that the election is taking place in July has been a big factor for us,” explains Northern Ireland’s Chief Electoral Officer David Marshall.

“We haven’t had a summer election since the Second World War. In total, we’ve had around 30,000 applications for both postal and proxy votes this year.

“In terms of postal votes we’ve issued 25,500 postal votes over the last few days. The vast majority of the people applying are applying because they’re going on holiday,” Mr Marshall said.

David McCann said electoral history suggests the main parties are most likely to benefit from postal and proxy votes.

“I think something that could be significant is that the postal and proxies campaign is typically run in the main by the two big parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, so that may end up favouring them in some key constituencies where there are tighter contests and some of the other parties aren’t as well organised,” he explains.

The postal vote ballot papers must be returned along wth a declaration of identity card no later than 4 July.

Once issued with a postal vote, the voter’s name is flagged on the electoral register and they cannot then opt to turn up in person at a polling station on the day of the election.

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