NI21 in ballot paper mix-up

Lagan Valley MLA and NI21 leader Basil McCrea has blamed electoral officials for his party’s name being left off some ballot papers.

However, the electoral officials insist they were following strict protocols and that the Party had failed to correctly register the description of their party.

Voters in Lisburn areas will have the phrase ‘Aspire to Better’ beside the candidate’s name, rather than the party name NI21.

“The two deputy returning officers told us that we were not allowed to use NI21,” explained Mr McCrea. “We can’t change it in time but we went in to register NI21 and because the box is not clear – it says description – had we put nothing in, it would have been our party name but we weren’t allowed to put our party name in.”

Responding to Mr McCrea’s comments, a spokesperson for Lisburn City Council, explained: “The nomination process for the forthcoming Local Government Elections and European Elections are strictly regulated through the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland.

“On April 16, the Deputy Returning Officer for Lisburn City and Castlereagh District, received correspondence from NI21’s Nomination Officer authorising the use of the description of ‘Aspire to Better’ on nomination papers for Party candidates.

“Instructions were also received from the Electoral Office that authorisation correspondence from Party Nomination Officers to Deputy Returning Officers, must specifically authorise the use of the same description that has been submitted on the nomination papers otherwise the nomination papers will be invalid.

“In accordance with the relevant legislation candidates can only use precisely what has been authorised. They cannot modify it in anyway. If they do, their nominations will be rejected as invalid.

“As the Nominating Officer for NI21 had only authorised the use of ‘Aspire to Better’ during the nomination period the Deputy Returning Officer had no discretion in accepting the description ‘NI21 – Aspire to Better’ which the candidates wished to use as this was a modification of what had been authorised. When this was explained to candidates, they were given the opportunity to discuss with their nominating officer and/or resubmit nomination forms before the closing date of 29th April 2014 at 1.00pm. This option was not taken up by any candidate, and all candidates used the description ‘Aspire to Better’ on their nomination papers.

“A further letter was received from the Nomination Officer on the day that nominations closed, this time, authorising the use of the NI21 logo, the description Aspire to Better or the party name should they wish to do so, but no candidates submitted papers with the revised description.

“The registration of party logos, title, description etc. remains the sole responsibility of each individual political party and the Deputy Returning Officer has no individual discretion in this regard.

“Any matters associated with NI21 and its candidates were managed, by the Deputy Returning Officer for Lisburn City and Castlereagh, in strict accordance with the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland to ensure the validity of its ballot papers.”

Lisburn Ulster Unionist Councillor Alexander Redpath said he felt it was unfair to blame electoral officials for the mistake.

Mr Redpath commented: “I don’t think it’s fair for Mr McCrea to blame electoral officials for his party’s mistake.

“Every other party in Northern Ireland managed to complete their forms correctly so it can’t be an issue with the forms being unclear. Moreover as some of Mr McCrea’s own candidates filled in the forms correctly and others didn’t I don’t see how it’s the fault of the electoral commission for registering his party incorrectly.

“At this election voters will be asked to elect councillors who will have control of tens of millions of pounds. If you can’t fill in your nomination forms properly it doesn’t bode well for your ability to run a city.”