ID to Vote?
UPDATE SEP 2017: The Cabinet Office has just announced that voters in Woking, Gosport, Bromley, Watford and Slough will be asked to take different forms of ID with them to polling stations in next year’s local elections in order to see which works best. Read more.
[Dec 2016] The Government has announced plans to trial voter ID checks in polling stations in an attempt to prevent voter fraud. Currently voters need only state their name and address in order to vote in person, however under new plans they may be asked to produce photo ID or an official document such as a utility bill.
“The aim is that pilots for ID in polling stations will be conducted at the local government elections in May 2018. Electors will be required to bring ID to prove who they are before they can vote, preventing anyone fraudulently taking another person’s ballot paper. Local authorities will be invited to apply to trial different types of identification, including forms of photo ID such as driving licenses and passports, or formal correspondence such as a utilities bill to prove their address backed by a signature check. Voters will be asked to produce ID before they can be given their ballot paper. If successful, the measure could be introduced for general elections and other polls. The independent Electoral Commission has long called for the use of ID in polling stations.” (Source)
Many argue however that voter fraud is rare, and would need to be conducted on an incredibly large scale in order to have any significant impact on an election. It can also be argued that asking voters for ID can prevent some groups from voting. The Electoral Reform Society said:
“While we should take all instances of voter fraud very seriously where they occur, mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The government should think very carefully before introducing barriers to voting. There is simply no evidence to suggest that electoral fraud is widespread across the UK. Where it has occurred it has been isolated and should be tackled locally. Raising barriers to democratic participation could just put people off voting – and evidence from the US shows that it’s generally those already most excluded from the political process that are worst affected by strict ID laws. The government should think again and look at all the evidence on voter ID before deciding to use this blunt instrument.” (Source)
The recommendations made by the government report are:
- piloting the use of photographic and other forms of ID in polling stations
- giving greater powers to electoral officials and the police to deal with intimidation and other unwanted behaviour
- banning the handling of completed postal ballots by political campaigners and limiting it to family members and carers
- that government should consider how nationality checking may be used to prevent false registrations
- offences protecting the secrecy of the ballot to be extended to cover postal votes
- requiring legal proof for requests for a waiver from giving a signature for a postal vote
- requiring electors to re-apply for postal votes every 3 years
- clarifying the detail of electoral offences to make them easier to understand and apply and increase maximum sentences for these offences
- strengthening and improving guidance to those running polls to ensure process is correctly and consistently followed
- revising the process for challenging the outcome of elections to make it clearer and easier to address proven instances of fraud
- considering how the various agencies involved (such as police and local authorities) can work together to prevent and ensure a more consistent and robust response to allegations and instances of fraud
- “A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast”
- Electoral Reform Society Statement
- Government Press Release
- “Voters in local elections will be required to show ID in anti-fraud trials”