A report from the Electoral Commission has said that voters should have to show some form of photo ID at polling stations in Great Britain. The aim, it says, would be to lessen the risk of fraud. It’s suggest that the reform should be based the current system in the Northern Ireland, where voters already need photo ID. If approved, then the changes would come into force in time for the local government and European Parliament elections in 2019.
Jenny Watson, who chairs the Commission, expected most voters to use a passport, driving licence or even a public transport photocard to prove who they were – and, if they didn’t have any of these documents, they could request a free ‘elections ID card’.
She acknowledged that proven cases of electoral fraud were rare but added that “when it is committed, the perpetrators tend to be candidates or their supporters. Voters are the victims and sustained action is needed now to prevent fraud from taking place.”
Northern Ireland has had a requirement on voters to produce some proof of identity before casting their ballot since 1985. But this could simply have included a utility bill or some other document containing both name and address.
The Commission pointed out that this system had been “considered to be inadequate because of the ease with which identity documents could be falsified.” As a result, the rules were changed in 2003 so that voters had to produce photo, rather than just general, ID. Since then, there have been no reported cases of voter impersonation in Northern Ireland and there was “little evidence of voters being turned away from the polling station for presenting an incorrect form of identification.”
However, the proposals have been questioned by several organisations. Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, insisted that, at a time when people were increasingly turning away from politics, “it’s important that we do not put up new barriers to participation. Of course it is vital to tackle electoral fraud, but we have to be sure that by doing so we are not inadvertently contributing to the problem of voter disengagement.
“We should be doing everything we can to get people on the register and into the polling station.” She added. “We need to be thinking about how to make it easier for people to register to vote: for instance, we could offer the opportunity to register when people have other dealings with their local authority, or even at the polling station itself. And we need to be tackling voter disengagement by introducing much-needed reforms like local proportional representation and votes at 16.”
No2ID’s Guy Herbert argued that it would be “absurd for a government that scrapped the Home Office’s centralised ID scheme to make presenting ID a requirement to vote. Does this quango get to change the face of our society? The idea is all cost and very little benefit. Holding official identity documents would become a requirement for democratic participation, registration effectively compulsory.”