You may or may not recall, and chances are that you won’t, that I linked to a review of electoral management by UEA Senior Lecturer Toby S James a while back. It was concerned with changes that could be effected by centralising electoral management in order to improve processes for voters. I’ll quote a section of the paper just here:
High profile localised problems became headline news at the 2010 general election, however, as some polling stations developed queues that prevented citizens from casting their vote and officials did not print enough ballot papers. […]
The nature of the electoral malpractice was not that electoral officials were acting in partisan way, engaged in electoral fraud on behalf of political parties. The perceived problem was thought to be variation in the compliance with statutory requirements and overall performance because of uneven resourcing and practice.
If I’m not mistaken, the paper also points out that low confidence by staff manning the polling stations in the processes undermines voters’ confidence in the polling process.
Now, I can’t speak for the body of research on voting reform that exists as I never pursued it in academia, but it seems to me that there is some definitive room for legislative improvements on the voting process in this country. Of course as such it’s lovely to hear the Conservative Party addresses this in their manifesto.
There’s just the slight difference in perspective, as they are eyeing the introduction of ID requirements for voters. Is voter fraud a real danger in the UK? That is, is the fraud perpetrated by so-called voters significant enough to warrant the introduction of ID requirements?
Speaking from experience, in Germany I believe I carried photo ID to the one occasion I voted in person. I voted using my “Perso” (the German ID card that used to look like a copy of the laminated page in your passport, but now has shrunk to the size of a driving license/debit card), and did not have to bring a polling card. The one time I voted in the UK I showed up to the polling station and had to give my name and home address – no more and no less.
In Germany there was no easy chance for voter fraud. My face was compared to my ID, my ID was compared to the list of eligible voters. In the UK on the other hand I could have sent another female to the polling station on my behalf, prepared with the right information, and had her impersonate me to cast a vote. So clearly the system is open to abuse. That doesn’t necessitate actual abuse of the system though.
What is the actual rate of voter fraud in the UK then? Matt Singh from Number Cruncher Politics penned an insightful piece, backed up with actual facts (not just personal experiences), in December after the “Securing the ballot” review of Sir Eric Pickles came through. To spare you clicking the link if you’re short on time, while this type of fraud is of course a serious problem that should be prevented where possible, 51.4 million votes were cast in the last election and there were still only a total of 26 allegations of fraud by people voting in person.
Principally speaking there is no problem with requiring ID, so long as the types of acceptable ID are common to all people. Passports and driving licenses are not. So there has to be another option – to not disenfranchise the poor or the immobile. Northern Ireland issues voting-specific IDs since 2003, and the British Government needs to follow suit.
To answer my question then, voter fraud is a real danger in the UK, but at a scale so miniscule, that maybe the money that is so precious to go around that the NHS suffers from cuts the same as primary and secondary schools should not be spent on introducing more onerous obligations to the people who are supposed to choose who is better equipped to allot that money.
(Photo credit goes to Keith Bacongco)