Nick de Bois is the Member of Parliament for Enfield North. Follow Nick on Twitter.
Paul Goodman’s recent ConHome article was absolutely right: the Government mustn’t park the problem of electoral fraud just because Boris won the Mayoral election. As has been consistently raised by the indefatigable Cllr Peter Golds, Britain’s electoral system is wide open to fraud. Peter has catalogued the extent to which the abuse of our democratic system is taking place in one London borough, and his accounts show how such practises can be replicated anywhere. Indeed, the problem is not confined to the nation’s capital; across the UK, electoral fraud is infecting British politics.
It’s easy to see why. In order to acquire the right to vote in Britain, all a person needs to do is fill in a registration form and send it to their local council. Sometimes it’s even easier than that – a council employee will knock on your door between September and October and just take your details. No identification or proof of qualification is required, meaning those with no right to vote can do so (I found this to be the case in my own constituency (Daily Express 3 May ). Signing up for a postal vote is easier than ever, allowing electoral fraudsters to cast votes under fake names without even having to attend a polling station.
It gets worse. Currently, there are no barriers to someone simply turning up at a polling station, using someone else’s details, and being given a ballot paper. It’s known as “personation” in electoral law. This is because we do not require people to prove who they are when voting. This isn’t just a possibility, it’s actually happening. It’s happening because our electoral system is dependent on trust, and unsurprisingly some people are content to abuse that trust.
As Paul highlighted, the situation has led a senior judge to say that Britain is tolerating levels of corruption “that would disgrace a banana republic”. Judge Richard Mawrey said in April that the forthcoming local elections presented "enormous opportunities" for vote-rigging and electoral fraud. So why is the Government refusing to act?
The Government is introducing some reforms, namely individual voter registration and the inclusion of National Insurance numbers on voter registration forms. The latter is vital because individual registration alone is again based on trust, relying on people not to simply make up two, three or ten additional fake signatures to accompany the fakes names. Including National Insurance numbers is a very important step, but will not come into effect until 2014. Existing entries on the register at that point – i.e. that went on without National Insurance information – will remain on the register for two years. So the next general election will be contested on an electoral register that has not benefited from the reforms.
But these reforms would not be enough – not anywhere near enough – even if the reforms were to take effect from tomorrow. The fact is, the Government’s reforms are like locking the back door while leaving the front door wide open. The two reforms that would shut the door on electoral fraud in Britain would be to introduce the requirement for photo ID at polling stations, and reviewing postal voting on demand.
I was therefore delighted that the chair of the Electoral Commission has now called for photo ID to be demanded at all polling stations in a bid to stop voter fraud. Jenny Watson has urged the Government to change the law to “help us all be sure our voting system is safe”. This one reform, combined with reviewing postal voting on demand, would combat fake entries on the register and eliminate the potential for personation at polling stations.
Requiring ID at polling stations is already in operation in the UK. Northern Ireland began requiring photo ID at polling stations in 2003. Voters without a driving licence or passport can contact their local council and have an electoral identity card created for them (based on another form of photo ID or a declaration from their MP). The system has proven reliable and I see no reason, given the growing level of electoral fraud, for the Government not to introduce the same system across the rest of the UK.
The integrity of our electoral system must be the priority, not high turnouts. If the Government is serious about combating electoral fraud, it needs to enact serious reforms.