Electoral Commission fails to make the case for voter ID at polling stations

The Electoral Commission’s call yesterday (as predicted) that voters should have to show some sort of ID at polling stations before voting in future in Great Britain has a theoretical logic to it. However, elections are run not just in the world of theory but also in the real world, and there are some very major practical potential problems.

First, what sort of ID would be acceptable? Once you get beyond passport and driving license (and not everyone has one or the other) you quickly get into either having to set standards that are inconvenient or set standards which make forgery a possibility.

Second, what’s the financial cost? Not only of retraining staff and having to educate voters, many of whom have voted for decades without needing voter ID, but also the possibility of having to introduce a new special form of voter ID that people can apply for if they don’t have one of the approved forms of ID. (This is what had to be done in Northern Ireland.)

Third, what’s the impact on turnout? This is a big unknown and makes such a move a big risk.

Of course, if the gain is big enough – and having fair elections, protected against corruption, is a very big gain – then these costs could look bearable. But what is the Electoral Commission’s evidence on this? In its report making the recommendation, almost none – save for a public opinion poll saying that the public think having to show voter ID would reduce fraud. Which doesn’t really tell us anything as the question doesn’t address the vital related points of is there a problem and if there is, is this the best way to fix it?

Let’s look instead then at the Electoral Commission’s evidence from the 2012 elections, published in May 2013.

It shows that there were 80 alleged cases of personation.

Of those 80, only 25 involved allegations of someone pretending to be someone else at a polling station, the scenario their voter ID recommendation would address. Moreover, 19 of the 25 took place in just one location (Peterborough) and far more cases (46) related to postal voting. The other 9 related to proxy voting.

Based on this evidence, it’s hard to see what the evidence really is for introducing a major nationwide change in election rules that comes with such costs and risks as the Electoral Commission’s proposal.

Dealing with postal voting issues should be the much higher priority. So too should be considering having some areas identified as high risk (perhaps on the Electoral Commission’s judgement, following formal advice from the local police and returning officers), and then introducing extra safeguards just for those areas currently tagged as high risk. That would be the smart way of dealing with the way in which serious allegations of electoral fraud, especially of personation, are highly concentrated in a small number of places. Target the problem, don’t apply a sledgehammer to the whole country.

As for voter ID at polling stations across the country? Case not proven.

11 responses to “Electoral Commission fails to make the case for voter ID at polling stations”

  1. ProfTimBale markpack Postal voting is the weakness as it allows pressure to be put on people and removes the secrecy of their vote

  2. I agree that dealing with postal voting issues should be the top priority. Postal fraud fraud is easier and more effective as it is easy to create dozens of false voters.

    However, there is one easy way to identify voters voting in person: insist that they take their poll card to the polling station and make those harder to forge. I have been a teller outside polling stations on and off since the late 1960s in different constituencies and found that the vast majority of voters take their poll cards.

  3. tom_watson markpack glad someone has facts. As a polling station worker my concern is extra time needed to issue ballot papers…

  4. tom_watson markpack In an ideal world, I would agree but there are people out there that feel the need to corrupt the process.

  5. tom_watson markpack personation and fraud is however a massive issue at Labour Party selection meetings where 1 vote can swing it. #stanns

  6. MarkReckons instapaper . Amazing Just about every country I have lived in requires ID. Also what about postal vote fraud.

  7. Alexandrosparta MarkReckons instapaper Postal voting fraud is perhaps more of a problem, but I do not wish introduction of ID Cards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.