Political

Government to pilot new voter ID laws for May 2017 elections

Voters will have to bring identification to polling stations for the first time next year, as part of a crackdown on electoral fraud.

Sky News understands a series of pilots will be set up in which voters will have to produce a document such as a driving licence, passport or utility bill to prove their identity.

Ministers have decided to adopt a series of recommendations contained in a hard-hitting report by former cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles, who said he feared abuse of Britain’s electoral system was widespread. [Sky News]

That Eric Pickles document is a rather problematic basis for electoral reform because, as I wrote when going through its recommendations in detail:

Some of the recommendations are either not really about fraud or not solely about fraud. The lack of detailed evidence behind the recommendations might also lead the sceptical to think that headline emphasis on tackling fraud is really being used as a cover for other political agendas…

There are the two recommendations that could have a widespread impact on honest voters: requiring ID to be shown when you vote and abolishing permanent postal votes (allowing instead applications to last for no more than three years). Other evidence about turnout suggests that making voting harder in these ways is likely to reduce turnout, and that it will reduce turnout in way that benefits the Conservatives over Labour. (The likely net effect for the Liberal Democrats one way or the other is minimal.)

So are these carefully thought through recommendations, based on clear evidence both that there is a problem and that these steps are the best, or least worst, way of tackling it? Not really. Indeed the report itself, for example, quotes research from 2015 showing that over 99% of polling station staff thought there had not been any issue with personation at their polling station.

Or in other words, a Conservative government wants to introduce a measure which would benefit it electorally and for which it hasn’t produced strong evidence.

The House of Lords in particular should pay very close attention to what the proposals actually say and how they would work as you hardly have to be a cynic to say, “hmm…” at this point.

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