Matt Smith: Time to introduce identity document checks at polling stations

In his independent report Securing the ballot: review into electoral fraud, Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion, argues Britain’s historically trust-based voting system is no longer tenable when local populations are denser and transient. Identity document (ID) checks on individuals voting in person should be applied at polling stations to safeguard the integrity of the electoral system. The Government will introduce electoral integrity pilots at the local elections in May 2018.

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Sir Eric’s report also recommends the following measures. Steps should be taken against the harvesting of postal votes; a requirement that postal voters reapply every three to five years; more rigorous checks on proxy voting; the police should be given greater powers to establish cordons sanitaires outside polling stations and photographing and videoing inside polling stations should be banned to prevent intimidation.

Sir Eric’s Review was commissioned in order to report on the robustness of the electoral system following the 2015 Tower Hamlets election court case, which voided the election of the ‘Tower Hamlets First’ Mayoral Candidate Lutfur Rahman.  This was: “A wake-up call that state bodies need to do far more to stamp out corruption and restore public confidence.” The High Court ruled that the former executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets had secured public office in 2014 illegally, with the assistance of electoral fraud and malpractice. According to the Electoral Commission, in 2015, police forces across the UK recorded a total of 481 cases of alleged voter fraud.

Concerns about voting fraud have been expressed with growing frequency since Tony Blair made postal votes available to all eligible voters in 2000.  Former Labour Mayor of London and political contemporary of Lutfur Rahman, Ken Livingstone, called the Government’s response to Sir Eric’s proposals “really bad” and “political” in nature.

It has been argued that the requirement to produce voter ID may exclude poorer electors.  Yet in Northern Ireland it has been compulsory to produce identity at polling stations since 1985 and photographic ID since 2002. In 2014 the Electoral Commission found no evidence that this requirement had disenfranchised eligible voters.  Voters who do not possess any form of recognised identity documentation can apply for an electoral identity card free of charge.

It is often harder to take out a municipal library book than it is to vote in a polling station administered by the same council.  Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies is now investigating the Met’s performance during the troubled 2014 London Borough of Tower Hamlets elections.  No arrests were made at the time of the poll, despite the High Court subsequently finding Lutfur Rahman guilty of electoral fraud and malpractice.  The Deputy Mayor of London’s decision to launch an investigation in to the Met was prompted by the need for local residents to be assured “The integrity of the democratic process is robustly secured.”

Sir Eric observed of Tower Hamlets, “It was local residents who lost out from the crooked politicians who bullied them and wasted their money. Integration and good community relations are undermined by the failure to uphold the rule of law and ensure fair play.” 

A group of local politicians who cheat their way to power are “Unlikely to hold a higher moral standard when handing out public contracts, or when making quasi-judicial decision on planning and licensing”.

In the words of Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore MP, these reforms “Will protect anyone who is at risk of being bullied, undermined or tricked out of their vote – and their democratic right.” Together these are timely ideas that should be welcomed by all who value the integrity of the democratic process.

 

Matt Smith was the Parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2015 and Chairman of the local Conservative Association between 2013 and 2016. As Lead City Seat Initiative Campaigner for the seat, he ran their local election campaign during the 2014 London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council elections. 

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