Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Special Report

Annex A

Revised Proposals to Combat Electoral Fraud

Proposal 1: The collection, during the registration process, of personal identifiers including date of birth and signature.

The registration form (Form A) used during the annual canvass and under rolling registration would be amended to accommodate additional information on individuals, including date of birth and signature. This information would then be stored on the electronic database from which the electoral register is drawn.

Identifiers of this sort would allow the Electoral Office to distinguish between electors with the same names, which currently is not possible, and thereby to identify those who have registered more than once. This database could then be examined to ensure the accuracy of the register. In particular, suspicious patterns of registration could be investigated. Multiple registration, which is legal, could be monitored to ensure that it did not lead to multiple voting.

The data would also be retrieved to check the identity of those voters applying for absent votes. Applications would have to contain the correct identifiers, which would deter or uncover attempted fraud.

Such additional identifiers would also make cross-checking between databases more effective.

Each voter would be responsible for the accuracy of his or her additional data, requiring a move to individual rather than household registration. Individual registration is already required for rolling registration by the provisions of the RPA 2000; this proposal would require the same from the annual canvass. Moreover, by signing the registration form, each elector declares his/her agreement with the data supplied.

Additionally, dates of birth (though probably not signatures) could be included on the electoral register held by the presiding officer on polling day. This information could then be used to verify voters' identity and the authenticity of their ID. The signature would be of less use than the date of birth because it would be hard to refuse a ballot paper to a voter on the basis of an erratic signature, especially if it is being compared to one scanned from a form.

Additional information of this kind would also form the basis of a database to be used in conjunction with the introduction of electoral cards for identification purposes (see below, Proposal 3).

Proposal 2:  Enabling the presiding officers to ask for confirmation of the voter's date of birth before issuing a ballot paper.

In addition to the two statutory questions which presiding officers are currently permitted to ask (viz. 'are you x ?' and 'have you already voted?'), they would be allowed to ask for confirmation of a voter's date of birth. This information, collected at the time of registration, would only be included in the copy of the electoral register carried by the presiding officer. The presiding officer would be able to refuse a ballot paper to anyone who was unable or unwilling to provide this information. Where the voter questions the accuracy of the electoral register, a tendered ballot paper would be proffered.

There need be no requirement for presiding officers to check the voters' dates of birth in this way. However, they could be encouraged to make a visual check on the voter and to use this additional right to confirm the authenticity of any suspicious ID.

Proposal 3:  Replacing the most vulnerable identification documents currently required at polling stations with a photographic identity document, which could pave the way for the eventual introduction of a unique electoral card (see below, Proposal 6).

A Government-issue photo-ID card would be added to the list of specified documents to replace those documents which do not provide photographic identification of the holder: e.g. the medical card, old GB driving licence, National Insurance card and benefits book. The passport and photographic driving licence would remain on the list.

The method of implementation of such a scheme remains open for discussion. Most probably, during the registration process those who believe they would be unable to present a passport or driving licence on polling day would be invited to apply for a photo-ID card. There are a number of issuing procedures which could then be followed, including postal application (such as that for the driving licence or passport) or personal application at the electoral offices or at temporary local registration centres. It would even be possible to use mobile issuing units that brought the necessary equipment to the elector's door. The card would be free and every effort would be made to ensure that those who needed such a card would not have to go to any great effort to get hold of one. This is especially important because those who are most likely to need such a card are the elderly, infirm or poor.

It is impossible to estimate the take-up of such a card, since no statistics are available for the relative popularity of the different specified documents. Electors would be encouraged to apply for a card only if they were unable to produce one of the other two documents. The legislation would need to specify what supporting documentation, such as a birth certificate, that applicants would need to take with them when obtaining a photo-card.

The cost of producing such a card would include the purchase or hire of the card-making equipment, the employment of issuing clerks and the purchase of the relevant database software. The unit cost of such a card is estimated at 90-110p. A photo-ID card could be introduced relatively quickly, with an initial issuing programme lasting up to 18 months. Systems would need to be in place at local electoral offices to ensure that cards could be replaced at short notice in the run-up to elections if they were lost or stolen.

The legislation changing the list of specified documents should allow for the introduction or re-introduction of other forms of photographic ID as and when they satisfy the security requirements. In particular, an updated medical card would be ideal, since it is generally available, widely used and free.

Proposal 4:   Improving the absent vote procedure, including the regulation of application forms, to enhance and speed up the checking of various personal identifiers

Building upon the collection of personal identifiers at registration, applications for absent votes would require confirmation of the same identifiers. This would require changes to the application form to allow for visual checking of details, and electronic checking in the future.

To this end, it is planned to introduce optical character recognition software and automated form-readers at the Electoral Office. This would speed up the process of checking application forms and allow greater time to investigate those forms that do not provide sufficient or credible information.

In addition, the absent vote application form would be personalised or given a unique identifier or serial number to reduce the chances of forgery or fraud. This would prevent the current practice of party officials photocopying and distributing large quantities of application forms. It is the Electoral Office's desire to remove the political parties from the absent voting procedure just as they have been removed from the registration procedure.

Bar-coded application forms could also be pre-printed with the applicant's name and qualifying address, to save time and trouble.

The Chief Electoral Officer could be given the express authority to refuse a postal or proxy vote to anyone who, as checks are carried out, fails to substantiate their identity and will not submit a fresh application.

Although essentially an administrative improvement, the law would have to be changed to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to require applications for absent votes to be made on specified forms.

Proposal 5:  The regulation of multiple registration to curb opportunities for multiple voting.

Those who are entitled to registration at more than one address should not lose that right, but certain restrictions and regulations could be introduced to close up the loophole, which allows people to vote more than once in an election.

It would be possible to mark in the register the names of those who are registered more than once. An initial would appear in the registers held by electoral officials on polling day, alerting them to the fact that that voter appears in more than one register. This would allow them to be vigilant in checking ID.

Also, such vigilance would help ensure that the presiding officer would be in a better position to confirm or deny that an individual voted at his/her polling station. If someone was accused of multiple voting, the presiding officers would act as credible witnesses to whether he/she actually voted, or whether someone else had stolen his/her vote.

Proposal 6:  Incremental moves towards the use of an electoral identity card as the sole means of verifying identity and, eventually, registering a vote

Using the electoral database, including the various data collected during registration, the Chief Electoral Officer would be able to issue electoral identity cards to replace all the specified documents currently required at the polling station. The card could contain a photograph, a signature and personal information identifying the holder; later versions could be encrypted and incorporate biometric data. Technology would in time permit such a 'smart' card to be used not only as proof of identity at elections but also as the means to register the vote.

Such a card would be developed following the acceptance of the optional elector's card. It is estimated that this would be at least ten years hence. Although the introduction of such a card would require legislation, there would be no need to legislate now.

The exact capabilities of such a card would have to be decided in the future. However, its general purpose would be (a) to identify the voter without any doubt, (b) to ensure that the voter is only able to vote once, (c) possibly also to enable the voter to cast his/her vote.

Although there would naturally be concern at the introduction of a comprehensive identity scheme of this sort, there need not be overwhelming opposition. In particular, if the card has further uses beyond identity at the polling station, its take-up and maintenance would be guaranteed. It may be possible to make the card useful for interface with Government or other services (such as banking).

The cost of purchasing, storing and maintaining card-readers for around 1200 polling stations, and one million plus electoral cards would be high. The technology would also require regular updating. In addition, any system could be vulnerable to IT failure.

A move to such a card would be out of step with GB but would address electoral abuse in the most comprehensive manner.

Proposal 7:  Increased cross-checking of the details of those on the electoral roll and the establishment of investigation teams within the electoral office.

The Chief Electoral Officer would use the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 2000 to make inquiries, as he thought fit, into those registering as electors and those applying for absent votes. In particular, these provisions would allow access to the records of named public authorities. This power would be used for making individual investigations.

A further power may be required to allow the Electoral Office to scan the whole electoral register against other large-scale databases and registers. Although the evidence of other databases could not be used to correct the electoral register because of possible inaccuracies, inconsistencies would be investigated. It would be necessary to ensure that no one was disenfranchised because his or her personal details were incorrectly entered in any database.

There will need to be compatibility between the relevant IT systems if the Chief Electoral Officer is to be able to carry out direct checks with other organisations' databases. This is being taken into consideration by the consultants investigating the renewal of the IT provision in the Electoral Office.

Although the Chief Electoral Officer would have to comply with data protection legislation, efforts to combat fraud would override many such restrictions.

The additional staff the Chief Electoral Officer would recruit to meet the requirements of rolling registration on top of the annual canvass could also form a team to assist him in checking the authenticity of applicants. However, without the investigatory powers available to police officers, Inland Revenue or Customs & Excise staff for example, there will be a limit to the amount of cross-checking and investigation that the electoral office staff will be able to carry out.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 6 February 2001