Electoral fraud should be of concern to everyone. So should a quango proposing to overturn Government policy.
Unfortunately for those two principles, the Electoral Commission has apparently decided to force them into conflict. Their new report on how to combat electoral fraud rightly proposes that voters should identify themselves at polling stations, but then effectively opens a back door for the ID card system the Coalition has only just got rid of.
Quite rightly, the Commission has come to the view that voters ought to be required to identify themselves in some way at the polling station. It is quite extraordinary when you consider that all you need in order to steal someone’s vote is to know their name and address – particularly when the electoral register is publicly available.
A system which at least requires people to bring some form of ID – a utility bill, say, or even the polling card which is posted through their door – would be a simple strengthening of the system. (There are other steps which could also be taken, not least to protect against postal voting fraud, which Paul Goodman has discussed previously.)
Unfortunately, the Electoral Commission go further than that, suggesting the entire UK takes up the Northern Ireland system of requiring photographic ID. As you might expect, not everyone has a driving licence or a passport, so hand in hand with that system comes the Voter ID Card – and a whole lot of trouble.
Abolishing Labour’s unpopular ID card scheme was one of the central points in the Coalition Agreement. It took years to put a stop to the project, and we are now happily rid of it. The last thing we need is for the Electoral Commission to open a back door for its return – a back door which Labour’s authoritarians and some Home Office officials will certainly use.
There’s no particular reason for the Commission’s assumption that an upgrade should mean upgrading to Northern Ireland’s system – reviews of policing never advise the rest of the UK to routinely arm their police on the basis that the PSNI already do it, for example. As far as I can see, it’s a simple case of bureaucracy extending powers as far as possible.
The Government ought to recognise the wisdom of asking voters to identify themselves, and the risk of bureaucrats going too far with such a proposal. Surely we could reform the system to ask people for some proof of who they are without a full-blown return to the bad old days of Labour’s database state.