Electoral fraud is a serious issue that undermines trust and confidence in our democracy. We have welcomed changes which have been made in response to our recommendations which mean that certain key areas of the electoral process in Great Britain, including the electoral registration system, have been made more secure.
What is particularly striking, however, is that voters living in England, Scotland and Wales are not required to produce any ID when voting at a polling station, unlike in many other democracies. This leaves polling station voting vulnerable to personation fraud, an offence where a person votes in an election while pretending to be someone else.
In our January 2014 report on electoral fraud vulnerabilities in the UK, we recommended that we should move to a system where voters in Great Britain are required to produce a form of photo ID at polling stations. Voters in Northern Ireland have been required to do this at elections since 2003. Voters’ confidence that elections are well-run in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than in Great Britain, and there are virtually no allegations of electoral fraud at polling stations.
We are still waiting for a response from the Government to our 2014 recommendation, but this week we have published the detailed proposals that we committed to developing, setting out how we think a proof of identity scheme for polling station voters in Great Britain could work, together with an indication of how much it would cost to implement.
We started from the position that a proof of identity scheme should be geographically consistent, secure and accessible. We would not support a scheme that permitted any local variation, as this could lead to accusations of partisanship shaping scheme design, as has happened in some US states.
We also think that the scheme should be based on existing forms of secure photographic proof of identity, including passports, photographic driving licences and certain public transport passes, for example. This will give polling station staff a greater level of certainty that the document presented identifies the holder. Non-photographic ID was abandoned in Northern Ireland in 2002 because of the ease with which such documents could be falsified and the fact that they did not provide sufficient proof of identity.
But how do we ensure that a proof of identity scheme is accessible to all, particularly given that some people will be less likely than others to hold the types of documents that might be used to prove identity?
We think that the answer lies in making available a “Voter Card”, which electors could apply for free of charge if they did not possess any other form of acceptable photo ID. A “Voter Card” would not in any way be akin to a national identity card and would only be used to prove identity at the polling station. It would be similar to the “Electoral Identity Card”, which electors in Northern Ireland can apply for free of charge from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland.
Our research suggests that the vast majority of electors would not need a “Voter Card”, but for those who did, applying should be straightforward and possible to do online, as well as by post and in-person. We think that online applications could be enabled either by modifying the online electoral registration service or by integration with the UK Government’s Gov.UK Verify service.
We understand that some people may have concerns about privacy and the protection of personal data, which is provided either when electors apply for a Voter Card or when voters show proof of their identity in the polling station. In our report, we make clear that any information submitted as part of an application for a Voter Card should only be used for the purpose of confirming that person’s identity and entitlement to be issued with a card. Data should not be retained after the application has been processed.
Implementation of a “Voter Card” scheme could take place in a number of different ways and could, we believe, be completed in time for the 2019 European Parliamentary and local government elections.
Further details of the options we considered and the indicative costs are set out in our report, but we think that the two most cost-effective options would involve:
- A scheme managed jointly between Electoral Registration Officers, who would process Voter Card applications, and an outsourcer, who would be responsible for printing and distributing cards to electors, or;
- A “stand-alone” scheme that would see the establishment of an organisation with sole responsibility for processing applications and handling printing and distribution of cards.
Both of these options should be pursued and discussed further, involving the Information Commissioner and other key stakeholders as appropriate. We also hope that a proof of identity scheme will be given serious consideration by Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s anti-corruption champion, who is currently undertaking a review of electoral fraud.