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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 13:25 GMT
Increase in NI polling booths
Nearly 300 additional polling booths are to be opened
The number of polling stations in Northern Ireland is to be increased by 20% for the forthcoming Assembly elections, the Electoral Office has said.

The move follows complaints from political parties that people were disenfranchised during the last elections two years ago.

Nearly 300 additional polling stations will be opened to allow people to cast their votes on 26 November.

Up to 30 new buildings are also being used and extra staff are being recruited for the elections and the count.

The additional resources follow complaints by political parties about delays at polling stations during the Westminster and Council elections in June 2001.

There have been areas where it was difficult for people to get to polling stations, particularly in rural areas
Brid Rodgers
SDLP

The Chief Electoral officer, Denis Stanley, said he hoped the move would help prevent delays.

"The idea is to ensure that each polling station, each presiding officer and ballot box has somewhere around 800 to 900 electors going to that ballot box," he said.

"This should ensure that when people appear at the polling station they don't have to wait unduly long.

"They can get a quick turnaround, they can get their vote cast and get out again and get back to whatever it is that they need to do."

'Some concerns'

Just over one million people are registered to vote in Northern Ireland, representing a drop of 8% in comparison to the last elections.

SDLP campaign director Brid Rodgers said it was good news that the number of polling stations would be increased.

"There have been areas where it was difficult for people to get to polling stations, particularly in rural areas," she said.

The simple act of getting your ballot paper is going to take longer, and there will be some confusion
Peter Robinson
DUP

"If they have now got a polling station closer to them, and in areas where they might feel more comfortable, I think it is very good. I am glad that the Electoral Office has taken it into account."

Stephen King of the Ulster Unionist Party said he believed it would help ensure that everyone could cast their vote.

"We want as high a turnout as possible in this election," he said.

"While we are obviously welcoming anything that makes it easier for anyone to vote, we have some concerns in relation to the ability of the PSNI to police that number of polling stations."

For the first time, voters will have to produce photographic ID.

'Created obstacles'

The DUP's director of elections, Peter Robinson, said he believed voting may take a little longer on 26 November.

"The simple act of getting your ballot paper is going to take longer, and there will be some confusion.

"So to reduce the delay and the queues that are likely to develop, I think that it is important that there are more polling places."

Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty also welcomed the move but said he believed that problems would arise because people have had to re-register since the last elections.

"The whole question of electoral ID, the whole question of individual voter registration has created obstacles as well," he said.





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