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BY JOE HUGHES 28/12/2016
The Tories have announced that following a report by Sir (anyone know why this happened?!) Eric Pickles, UK voters will have to take ID to the ballot box in certain pilot areas. In the 2018 local elections, ID will be required before casting a vote, to prevent someone from fraudulently taking another persons ballot paper
Fighting electoral fraud can only be a good thing, so I would love to welcome the Tories apparent new found dogma, however I am unable to do so, as this is nothing more than another smoke and mirrors Tory game plan.
Figures of electoral fraud from recent years are low, with around 100 convictions since 1994, which included a spike of 22 in 2004 when all-postal voting trials were run in four English regions for the combined European and local elections. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 brought in new laws directed at the postal and proxy votes, which were clearly an issue. Since then, the number of cases and convictions involving postal votes has reduced, suggesting this worked. Even with this spike though, these conviction numbers feel low.
In an ideal world, we would have 0 cases of electoral fraud, but this is highly unrealistic, so the aim is to keep the number as low as possible. Between 2010 & 2015 (figures unavailable for 2016 at time of writing), there has been an average of 368 cases a year, with just 6 convictions, and 4 court proceedings initiated from 2015. While these should be viewed as a snapshot, as its possible some goes undetected, considering the total electorate is around 45 million, this is clearly a low number, even taking into account it is a rough count. In fact, when you analyse the cases of electoral fraud since 2010, the biggest issue appears to be campaigning offences, rather than voting offences. Campaigning offences include failure to include details about the printer, promoter and/or publisher on election material, making false statements of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate, or failure to submit a return of elections expenses. 26% of cases last year were in relation to the voter, whereas 56% were in relation to campaigning offences such as those outlined above. This is where we get to the heart of the UKs problem with electoral fraud.
19 police forces are currently investigating allegations over Conservative spending last year, which if found guilty could completely throw the 2015 general election result into disrepute. A handful of voters making fraudulent votes is wrong but whole parties breaking electoral law is a complete scandal. Despite their claims to loath corruption and fraud, the Tories resisted the ‘Tory Election Fraud’ story for months, even refusing to cooperate with the Electoral Commissions investigation at one point. Funny then, how quick Pickles (two words never used in the same sentence before) was to throw weight (now thats not fair!) behind the calls for voter ID to be introduced.
I am also in no doubt that the Tories are not alone in their electoral fraud, they are just unfortunate, or stupid, to be caught out first. It’s also not a new thing. In 2010, Zac Goldsmith was grilled by Jon Snow over allegations of election fraud, which looking back, he’ll probably regard as a high point in what has been a shitstorm of a political career. He barely denies the allegation though, instead digging his usual deep hole and throwing back the insinuation that ‘everyone else was doing it.’ While I agree with him, this excuse is simply not good enough, and the Electoral Commission and Police must continue pursuing all cases vehemently.
The impact this new ID policy could have on voting numbers is huge. The Electoral Commission have said 3.5 million voters, or 7.5% of the electorate, have no acceptable piece of photo ID. Considering the cost of a passport is £72.50 and a driving license is £34, it should come as no surprise that in Tory led, austerity Britain, so many people struggle to afford luxuries like proving who they are. This could mean some will be denied a vote altogether, or will have to turn to multiple pieces of ID. The Tories are trialling this in working class areas with high immigration numbers, as they feel these are more susceptible to voter fraud. They know full well that those lists of ‘one from Group A & one from Group B’ will put off a lot of these voters. English is my first language, and I can often struggle getting my head around those lists. Add in that these are traditional Labour areas and voters, and the cynic in me says the Tories are aiming this as a shot in the arm to staying on beyond this term.
We should be continuing to pursue ways in which we can stop electoral fraud, both by voters and by political candidates and parties, but must do this in a fair and effective way. Cat Smith, the Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement, who herself has a question marks over electoral fraud, has said that this policy puts extra hurdles in the way for voters. Her statement goes on to say, “The plans for photo ID are like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, potentially denying a vote to millions" which I completely agree with.
If they want to ensure voter turnout isn't damaged by this policy, the Tories should eliminate the cost of passports or driving licenses, to ensure these forms of ID are accessible for all. Furthermore, I believe it is every UK citizens legal right to be able to vote here, and thus we should automatically be enrolled onto the electoral register at 18. We should then be given a voter ID to corroborate with this, which would deal with both low voter turnouts and electoral fraud. This is a real test of the Tories view on democracy and electoral fraud, their actions so far suggest a complete disdain, but there is still time for them to change.