Why is Electoral Office Stalling on Castlereagh By-Election?In response Douglas Bain, the Chief Electoral Officer has released an unprecedented refutation of Allister's accusation:
Statement by TUV Leader Jim Allister:-
"It is almost a week since Castlereagh Council occasioned a by-election to fill Iris Robinson's seat, yet the Chief Electoral Officer has failed to expeditiously fix a date for the poll? In past by-election scenarios there has not been such delay. Moreover, established precedent is to move swiftly to a date so as to fill the democratic deficit which a vacant seat creates.
In this case I suspect the DUP is anxious to postpone a poll till the General Election or thereafter, as they wish to avoid a test of opinion before the Westminster election, particularly in East Belfast. The Chief Electoral Officer should be immune from such pressures. I am therefore calling on him to get on with fixing an early date for this important by-election. There has been too much delay already."
[The observant will notice that Bain's statement has no 'note 5' - he must have been so annoyed when he wrote it that he missed that.]
RESPONSE TO JIM ALLISTER STATEMENT
Commenting on the statement issued by Jim Allister, Douglas Bain the Chief Electoral Officer said –
“I refute absolutely any suggestion that my decision on the date of the election is being influenced by the DUP. Indeed a person representing Mr Allister has been the only person to contact me about the date of the election.
The date for the by-election will be announced as soon as practicable. The law provides that the Notice of Election must be published within 21 days of 24 February, which was the date on which I was satisfied that a vacancy had occurred. That period expires on 26 March.”
Notes for Editors
1. The Chief Electoral Officer’s role begins only once he is satisfied that a casual vacancy exists. That was on the afternoon of Wednesday 24 February when he received a letter from the Acting Chief Executive of Castlereagh Borough Council.
2. Prior to receiving this letter the Chief Electoral Officer had already fixed a meeting for 2 March with officials from Castlereagh Borough Council to discuss the arrangements for any election that was required.
3. In deciding the date of the election the Chief Electoral Officer will take account of a range of factors including –
- the convenience of voters
- the impact on voters and schools used as polling stations of having a by-election and a Parliamentary general election within a few weeks of each other
- the absence of voters due to the Easter break
- the statutory timetable which excludes Saturdays, Sundays, Maundy Thursday and public holidays when calculating the election date
- the views expressed by politicians.
4. The Chief Electoral Officer refutes absolutely any suggestion that his decision on the election date has been influenced by the DUP. He has received no communication from them on this matter.
6. The period of time that elapsed between a vacancy occurring and the poll at the last three by-elections was as follows -
7. The timetable for filling casual vacancies on district councils is set out in Rule 1 of the Local Election Rules at Schedule 5 of the Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1962.
The step by Bain is highly unusual – perhaps even unprecedented – and shows that Allister's tactics are increasingly grating even on professionally neutral people.