Police with ballot boxes

The British government have announced plans to introduce compulsory voter ID in an effort to tackle fraud. It’s a start but it’s barely scratching the surface.

Voter fraud at polling stations is unbelievably easy to perpetrate and the fact that nothing has been done to tackle it until now is frankly astonishing. You can literally walk into any polling station anywhere in the country with the name and address of a registered voter and vote on their behalf without their knowledge.

Requiring ID to vote in person will deter casual fraud but it won’t stop even a vaguely competent fraudster. Utility bills or other types of ID can be easily forged to give legitimacy to fraudulent entries on the electoral register. ID cards can be purchased online that simply require copies of documents that can easily be forged and the endorsement of someone off the usual list of people who can countersign passport photos – doctors, teachers, councillors, etc. Just the kind of people who will actively campaign for the party that benefits from most vote fraud.

Fraud at polling stations is a problem but it’s certainly not the only problem or even the biggest problem. Postal vote fraud and multiple voting is where most of the fraud occurs.

There are several common types of postal vote fraud. Stealing ballot papers was something that was bragged about in the most recent election, especially in student accommodation at universities where students had already broken up for Christmas. Some people even bragged of paying for blank postal votes at universities.

One of the long-running and very common frauds with postal votes is “community leaders” either collecting blank ballot papers or forcing voters to vote a certain way and taking the completed ballot paper from them. A variation on this is campaigners and candidates visiting care homes to do the same.

Multiple voting is common amongst students where they can quite legitimately register to vote both at their family home and their university. This is to allow them to choose one or the other depending on where they are at the time and which constituency they feel an affinity with. They are only allowed to vote in one constituency or the other but it is common for students to vote by post in their home constituency and in person at their university address.

The only way to prevent postal vote fraud is to limit who is able to request a postal vote in the first place. Postal voting on demand needs to be repealed and become the exception again.

Voters in care homes, sheltered accommodation and student digs who are especially vulnerable to intimidation, coercion and theft of their ballots should not be able to vote by post. Election officials from the local authority should visit such buildings with sealed ballot boxes and officiate over votes being cast to ensure it is being done freely and by the correct person.

Finally, the system of local authorities each maintaining their own electoral register needs to be replaced with a single, national electoral register. This would go some way to preventing voters registering in more than one constituency when they are not entitled to. And, in fact, nobody should be entitled to vote in more than one constituency. Students should be required to pick a home and be restricted to voting at that home.

The above changes – removing the right to postal voting on demand, establishing mini polling stations for groups of at-risk voters, creating a single electoral register covering the whole country and only allowing one entry on the register per person – combined with a requirement to show ID at polling stations should wipe out the majority of voter fraud. Sophisticated fraudsters will always find ways round the system but for most people it will prove to be too much hassle and too big a risk for too little reward.

Whatever is done needs to be done soon and it needs to be comprehensive. Just fiddling with bits of a very broken and corrupt system to be seen to be doing something isn’t good enough. Boris needs to be bold if he is going to tackle voter fraud.

Lutfur Rahman Outside Court

The British government have announced plans to introduce compulsory voter ID in a half-arsed attempt to tackle voter fraud.

Voter fraud is a real problem but voter ID will do very little to address it. The majority of voter fraud is with postal votes, not voting in person and for that there is no requirement to prove your identity. In fact, there is very little done in practical terms to prove a postal voter even exists.

The problem is that postal vote fraud is most common in areas with large immigrant populations and on the rare occasions that someone is actually prosecuted for postal vote fraud it’s usually someone of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. This isn’t speculation, it’s one of the conclusions of an investigation by the Electoral Commission. Attempting to tackle postal vote fraud by targeting communities where most of it is happening is denounced as racist of course it is vehemently opposed by Labour who benefit from it the most.

Postal voting on demand was introduced by Labour in 1999 and became law in 2000. It was sold as a measure to remove barriers to voting and increase voter participation. In reality it has resulted in widespread postal vote fraud which undermines trust in the system. Speak to most election candidates and they will have stories about the fraud that happens in elections and goes uninvestigated. Whether it’s “community leaders” collecting postal votes, “helping” people in care homes fill out their postal votes or simply inventing people who don’t exist or who live elsewhere, it is all facilitated by the availability of postal voting on demand.

Prior to the change to allow postal voting on demand, voters were required to apply to the local authority for a postal vote. To get one they had to give a valid justification for not going to the polling station in person on the day. Sickness, infirmity or holidays were valid reasons; laziness was not. The system worked perfectly fine and the only real disincentive to voters was that it made it very difficult to defraud the system.

There are, of course, instances of people committing voter fraud at polling stations and compulsory voter ID would probably put a stop to much of it but it is fixing the wrong problem. Postal voting on demand needs to stop.

Those who follow politics will be well aware of Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets in London. He and his Tower Hamlets First Party were found guilty by a special election court of widespread fraud and corruption. The local authority was put into special measures, a delegation from the Department of Communities & Local Government took over the day to day running of the authority and Rahman and his cronies were booted out of office and banned from standing for election again for several years. But even with widespread voter fraud it still took years and the bravery of a few individuals to bring Rahman and his motley crew to justice. It was fought all the way by threats and intimidation, accusations of racism and editorials from left wing media deploring the witch hunt against those respectable men who were being unfairly targeted because of their ethnic background. What happened in Tower Hamlets and the stance taken by the media won’t change if voters have to produce ID to vote and the reaction by the Labour-supporting press (and the Labour Party itself of course) condemning the plans because it will deprive Labour of all those fraudulent votes backs that up. Returning officers will still be scared of investigating fraud for fear of being accused of racism, as will council officers checking ID for the same reason. Fear of spurious accusations will ensure the system remains open to abuse.

If compulsory voter ID does go ahead it will bring about a problem in itself. Whilst announcing the proposed change it was said that local authorities would provide a voter ID card free of charge to anyone who doesn’t have photo ID. That’s all well and good but how will the local authority prove the identity of the person requesting the ID card if they don’t have photo ID? What system can they put in place that is any different to what vetting system already exists for postal vote applications that fails to prevent fraud now? Fake identities will be legitimised by the existence of an ID card that is the product of a flawed system.

The biggest problem with the suggestion for me, though, isn’t that it’s proposing to fix the wrong problem or even that it will be quite obviously as open to widespread fraud as the current system is. It’s the idea of a compulsory ID card. These things are the thin end of the wedge, they always are. It will start with compulsory ID for voting and then it will be required for accessing council services. Then shops and other organisations will start requesting it and before long it will have to be centralised into one ID database by the British government to make sure it’s “safe and secure”. In a few years we will all be required carry an ID card by law. It might take a few years but it will happen, there is no doubt about it and I will not carry an ID card nor submit myself into an ID database. If that means I can’t vote then so be it but I will not participate in any ID card scheme.