Electoral Law: The Urgent Need for Review Contents

3Reducing fraud and improving voter confidence in elections

45.In the Queen’s Speech 2019, the Government announced proposals to improve electoral integrity in the UK. These proposals included, inter alia, the introduction of photographic voter ID requirements and a ban on political party campaigners from handling postal votes.56 The proposals for voter ID have proven particularly controversial. In this chapter we examine the Government’s proposals to reduce fraud and improve voter confidence in elections, specifically the Government’s plans to introduce voter ID and postal voting reforms.

Voter ID

The Government’s policy

46.Following a report from (the then) Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles on electoral fraud,57 the Government announced its intention to assess the viability of voter ID requirements pilot schemes in “specified local authority areas”. Such pilots took place in local elections in 2018 and 2019. These pilots tested the following models of voter ID:

Table 1: 2018 Voter ID Pilots

Identification model

Local Authority

Poll card model

Swindon

Watford

Mixed ID model

Bromley

Gosport

Photographic ID model

Woking

Source: Electoral Integrity Project - Local Elections 2018 - Evaluation, Cabinet Office, August 2018

Table 2: 2019 Voter ID Pilots

Identification model

Requirement

Local Authority

Poll card model

Poll card (technology enabled) - electors told to bring poll cards - with barcodes that can be scanned on them - to the polling station.

Mid Sussex and Watford

(Watford piloted the same ID requirements in 2018.)

Poll card (non-tech) - Electors told to bring poll cards to the polling station.

North West Leicestershire

Mixed ID model

Electors told to bring either one form of photographic ID or two forms of non-photographic ID to the polling station.

Derby, Craven, Braintree, North Kesteven and Broxtowe

Photographic ID model

Electors told to bring one form of photographic ID to the polling station.

Woking and Pendle

(Woking piloted the same ID requirements in 2018.)

Source: Evaluation of Voter ID Pilots 2019: Evaluation of pilots introducing an ID requirement for voters at polling stations in May 2019 local elections, Cabinet Office, July 2019

47.On 11 September 2018, the Committee held an evidence session with the Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith MP, to scrutinise the 2018 Voter ID trials.58 At this time the Committee expressed concern about the evaluation of the pilots by the Cabinet Office,59 the potential effect of the policy on BAME groups,60 and the inability of the Government to be able at the time to provide an estimate of the cost of pilots.61

48.The mixed ID model and the photographic ID model in the 2019 pilots included the provision of free, locally issued ID available from the local authority, if electors did not have the required form of ID.62 Following these pilots, the Queen’s Speech 2019 announced that photographic voter ID requirements would be introduced. The Minister told us he did not see such requirements being rolled out until May 2022 “at the earliest”.63

The merits of voter ID

49.Voter ID was the most controversial part of our inquiry, we received submissions both strongly in favour and resolutely opposed.

50.The voter identification pilots were welcomed by the Conservative Party, who suggested that the roll-out of pilots was a positive step for evidence-based policy making and argued that, in Great Britain, “it is harder to take out a library book or collect a parcel at a post office than it is to vote in someone else’s name.”64 Councillor Peter Golds of Tower Hamlets also supported voter ID, telling us that “vote early, vote often” was a problem during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which was effectively eliminated by the introduction of voter identification. He argued that the voter ID pilots were a success and Northern Ireland provides a precedent that this is “a simple procedure which will increase confidence in the electoral process.”65 The Government, in written evidence, explained that this was with the aim of “reducing the risk of voter fraud and ensuring voter security”.66

51.The proposed introduction of voter ID has been described by the Electoral Reform Society as a “sledgehammer to crack a nut”67 and they told us that there was no evidence that personation is a widespread practice.68 In research conducted by the Electoral Reform Society, only 4% of respondents identified voter ID as the most important issue for elections, more highly prioritised subjects were large financial donors, the accuracy of the voting register and ensuring media coverage was balanced.69 The Labour Party argued that voter ID requirements would have a disproportionate impact on voters with protected characteristics, such as “ethnic minority communities, older people, trans people and people with disabilities.”70 It has been suggested that some 3.5 million voters might be affected as they do not have any form of photo ID.71

52.Dr Alistair Clark told us that the international consensus was that personation was “the most costly, difficult and risky way to commit electoral fraud.”72 Dr Toby James echoed this, saying that there was “no evidence that this form of electoral fraud is a serious problem in British elections, proportionate to other issues” and set out the table below on problems reported by polling officers in the 2018 local elections:

Table 3: Problems reported at the Polls in the English local elections 2018

Potential problems

Percentage of respondents reporting at least one problem

People asking to vote but not on register

52

Disabled voters having problems competing ballot papers

14

Members of parties being where they shouldn’t be

9

Disabled voters having problems with access to the polling station

9

People taking photos of ballot/polling stations

8

Members of parties intimidating public

8

People ask to vote whose identity I was unsure of

5

Suspected cases of electoral fraud

1

Source: Dr Toby James (ELL0021)

53.Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Professor Maria Sobolewska expressed the view that it was “difficult to square the government’s sole focus on voter ID with the wider evidence of threats to electoral integrity in the UK”, explaining that allegations of personation “accounted for a total of 178 cases alleging from 2010–18, with a peak of 44 cases in 2016” and the number of convictions for personation “could be counted on one hand”.73 Dr Toby James told us that it was “reasonably clear” that “There is no real evidence to support the need for [voter ID]”.74

54.In oral evidence the Minister argued that it was not a case of “either/or” and other changes, such as to campaign finance rules, could brought in along with voter ID and stressed that voters who did not have photographic ID would be able to access a free of charge Electoral Identity Card.75 The Minister also pointed to Northern Ireland as proof a voter ID system could work.76

The results of the 2019 pilots

55.The Cabinet Office, in its evaluation of the 2019 voter ID pilots, argued that the pilots demonstrated that all modes of voter ID “are workable”.77 The tables below provide changes in elector views that there are sufficient safeguards at the polling station, comparing before and after polling day.

Table 4: Elector view on whether there are sufficient safeguards at polling stations

Method

Percentage before polling day (%)

Percentage after polling day (%) (change in brackets)

Poll card

62

65 (3%)

Mixed ID

63

78 (15%)

Photographic ID

57

63 (6%)

Source: Evaluation of Voter ID Pilots 2019: Evaluation of pilots introducing an ID requirement for voters at polling stations in May 2019 local elections, Cabinet Office, July 2019

56.The Cabinet Office’s evaluation also reported the number of people who did not return after being refused a ballot paper for not bringing the required voter ID:

Table 5: Number of people refused a ballot paper in the 2019 voter ID pilots

Number of people initially refused ballot paper

Number of people who didn’t return with ID

People who didn’t return, as a percentage of those who voted in the polling station

Mixed Model pilots

Braintree

203

73

0.3%

Broxtowe

231

69

0.3%

Craven

129

49

0.7%

Derby

514

256

0.6%

North Kesteven

145

68

0.4%

Poll card pilots

Mid Sussex

15

8

0.03%

NW Leicestershire

266

61

0.4%

Watford

94-209

33-51

0.2%

Photo ID only pilots

Pendle

284

101

0.7%

Woking

87

22

0.1%

Source: Evaluation of Voter ID Pilots 2019: Evaluation of pilots introducing an ID requirement for voters at polling stations in May 2019 local elections, Cabinet Office, July 2019

The Cabinet Office’s evaluation stated that “The data collected indicated that no consistent demographic group, that we were able to examine, was adversely impacted by the models”.78

57.The Electoral Commission, in its evaluation, identified three key areas for further consideration:

58.The Electoral Commission stressed in their evaluation that “year-on-year turnout comparisons are difficult owing to the local government electoral cycle” and concluded that:

It is not possible to draw a clear connection between the pilot scheme and any changes in turnout. Limited data is available and where it is available, the pattern is not consistent. We also know that turnout is volatile and dependent on a number of factors.80

The evaluation also explained that the polling station staff were not asked to collect demographic information about the people who did not return to vote and this means that “we have no direct evidence to tell us whether people from particular backgrounds were more likely than others to find it hard to show ID.”81

59.At the time of drafting this report, there was no cost information available for the 2019 pilots. The Cabinet Office evaluation is to be updated with validated cost data, once available.82 The Government’s evaluation of the 2018 voter ID, provided the following potential costs per general election:

Table 6: Potential cost of voter ID per general election (excluding the cost of IT equipment required in polling stations.)

Method

Potential cost per general election

Poll card model

£4.3m - £20.4m

Mixed ID model

£4.6m - £17.1m

Photographic ID model

£5.9m - £17.9m

Source: Electoral Integrity Project - Local Elections 2018 - Evaluation, Cabinet Office, August 2018

60.It is essential that voters are able to have confidence in the integrity of UK elections, which voter ID can support but there is a lack of robust evidence about the potential effect of voter ID on particular demographics. Furthermore, in the absence of information on the potential cost of voter ID, it is impossible to evaluate the value for money of introducing such requirements. In the absence of such information, voter ID is something over which the Government should exercise extreme caution over proceeding with. We recommend that the Government should continue with voter ID pilots to provide a greater evidence base on the impacts of voter ID on particular demographics and the likely cost of the national roll-out of voter ID.

Postal voting

61.The Government also announced in the Queen’s Speech plans to reform postal voting by:

Tightening up postal voting requirements to prevent fraud was uncontroversial in our inquiry, particularly the suggestion of banning campaigners from handling postal votes. The Electoral Commission described it as “inappropriate” for campaigners to be directly involved in the administration of the voting process, including completing absent vote applications and postal ballot packs, both due to the direct risk of fraud and the perception of voters that such activity would be inappropriate.84 Other witnesses also welcomed a ban on campaigners handling postal votes.85

62.We welcome and support the Government’s planned postal voting reforms outlined in the Queen’s Speech 2019.


58 Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Session 2017-9, Oral evidence, Electoral intimidation and voter identification, 9 September 2018, HC 1366

59 Ibid Q5

60 Ibid Q16-19

61 Ibid Q22

64 Conservative Party (ELL0011)

65 Councillor Peter Golds (ELL0018)

66 Cabinet Office (ELL0012)

67 A Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut: The 2018 Voter ID Trials, Electoral Reform Society, 11 September 2018

68 Electoral Reform Society (ELL0016)

70 Labour Party (ELL0022)

72 Dr Alistair Clark (ELL0007)

73 Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Professor Maria Sobolewska (ELL0008)

79 May 2019 voter identification pilot schemes, Electoral Commission, accessed 28 October 2019

84 The Electoral Commission (ELL0002)

85 Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Professor Maria Sobolewska (ELL0008); Association of Electoral Administrators (ELL0004)




Published: 1 November 2019