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,
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: