All parties expect to be hit by the downturn in voter numbers, although unionists and the SDLP say Sinn Fein will be worst hit. Others, however, say more moderate parties will be badly affected because their voters are not as determined to register.
Overall, 11 percent of the electorate has been wiped off the register as a result of extensive changes in the way voting lists are compiled. From a total of 1.2 million at the last election, the figures are down by 130,000.
The most dramatic downturn has come in the West Belfast seat currently held by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Almost one in five of its electorate has gone from the new register, leaving a total of just 81 percent of the previous figure.
The changes were made in an attempt to cut down on electoral fraud, although opinions differ on how far the new system has prevented multiple voting or deterred those suspicious of authority.
Although West Belfast has been badly hit, three other rural constituencies, which return Sinn Fein MPs (Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Mid Ulster and West Tyrone), are among the top registration percentages.
The new system, introduced only in Northern Ireland, forces potential voters to fill in individual forms rather than be registered by the heads of households as previously.
In addition, voters had to provide their National Insurance number, date of birth and signature, as well as stating their nationality. Those who believe they have been missed out can still come forward, under what is known as “rolling registration,” and appeal to be placed on the register.
The pattern of registration varies significantly across Northern Ireland, with Belfast constituencies among the lowest. The North Belfast constituency will have only 84 percent of its former electorate.
“Assurances that information from these new electoral forms will not be passed on to the security people holds no water in our community,” a Sinn Fein source said. “But I don’t think this will hit us hard because we are probably better than most at getting our vote out.”
The register will be used in next May’s elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. These are expected to be particularly close-fought, with the four biggest local parties all closely clustered together.
In the 1980s, when Sinn Fein began to crawl up the electoral ladder, the British Conservative government of the day claimed that up to 20 percent of its votes were obtained by electoral abuse.
The laws were considerably tightened, with voters required to produce medical cards or other identification. This, however, led to evidence of fake medical cards, showing that the tighter laws posed no insuperable difficulty.
The SDLP has been particularly determined in claiming Sinn Fein fraud, especially in West Belfast, where Alex Attwood was once stoned after he pursued people, whom he suspected of cheating, leaving a voting station.
The allegation is strongly denied by Sinn Fein. The republican vote has over the past decade soared so steeply that it could not possibly be all due to fraud.