Dominic Grieve has said he is sorry if his remarks about people of Pakistani origin – he clearly had election fraud in mind – caused offence to them or to anyone else. You may think he had a point, or believe that he didn’t. You may also, even if you refer back to the Slough and Birmingham trials, or the problems in Tower Hamlets, or the verdicts of Judge Richard Mawrey and remarks made by Sayeeda Warsi, or the reports and advice of the Electoral Commission and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, believe that the problem is getting better and not worse. For example, Sunder Katwala of British Future says that generational integration effects should help. We shall see.
But whatever you think, a question remains. What’s wrong with the six recommendations made by Cllr Peter Golds (who has written on this site about Tower Hamlets) that the Government hasn’t acted on, namely – reviewing postal votes on demand; making it illegal for anybody to collect ballot papers; examining the powers and personnel of the Electoral Commission – and, in particular, requiring the production of I.D when voting. (The Government has acted on his seventh recommendation, the introduction of individual voter registration.)
The more you think about it, the more remarkable it is that proof of identity is required for private matters, such as setting up a bank account or travelling to Ireland, but not for one of the most important public matters of all. To vote, a process on which our liberal democracy depends, all that is required is for one to turn up at the polling station (if, that is, one hasn’t already voted by post, which gives rise to a series of related problems). The website of the Electoral Commission expressly reminds readers that “the poll card is for your information only, and you do not need to take it to the polling station in order to vote”.
What possible reason is there not to require voters to prove their identity? Or was Tom Stoppard right when he joked in Jumpers: “It’s not the voting that democracy. It’s the counting”?