Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Steamrollers for cracking nuts - on demanding ID at polling stations

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The Electoral Commission is suggesting that we should have to show identification in order to vote:

"Looking ahead, the time has come for England, Scotland and Wales to move towards a requirement for voters to produce ID at polling stations. This would strengthen the system and bring Great Britain into line with Northern Ireland and many  countries where this is already in place."

This proposal isn't made because the Electoral Commission has any substantive evidence that personation is a real problem in UK elections merely that there have been lots of complaints and lots of stories about allegations of possible personation (mostly in places with big immigrant populations and especially Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslim populations).

That there is fraud in our elections is a fact that no-one disputes. However, the real problems don't lie with personation but with voter registration and postal voting - yet the Commission refuses to tighten up postal voting systems. Instead we get demands for ID - another example of how we are no longer a place where the default position is to trust someone, to assume he is telling the truth.

In Bradford we get these complaints of personation at every elections. Typically the anecdotes tell of a young campaigner going to houses of people he knows and having a conversation something like this:

"Hi Auntie, where's uncle?" "He's at the mosque."

"Has he voted yet?" "I don't know - his polling card is on the table"

"I'll take it."

The cards are gathered up and handed over to others to vote - "vote early, vote often" as the saying goes.

I suspect that something like this - or variations on it - does happen but that it is less common than the stories make out. What is interesting is that there hasn't been a prosecution for this sort of personation (as far as I know). There have been prosecutions - some successful - for mishandling postal votes and for abuse of voter registration but these are also rare.

This seems to me a proposal more in response to the cries of foul that political parties in some places routinely throw out when they lose elections. We have a small nut in the form of problems in a few places (and these are about allegations of wrongdoing rather than actual evidence of wrongdoing) to which - for its own convenience - the Electoral Commission proposes to employ a large steamroller in the form of requiring ID.

In the end the truth about voting fraud is this - as the Chair of the Electoral Commission says:

"Proven cases of electoral fraud are rare..."

The response should be for local councils and police in areas where there might be a problem not for national legislation. And certainly not for legislation that institutionalises an assumption of mistrust and especially mistrust based on someone being from an immigrant population.

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3 comments:

Twenty_Rothmans said...

I hate legislation and regulation.

I am also very jealous of things that belong to me - things that I hold precious.

It's therefore no imposition to jump through the hoops when dealing with any form of authority so that they are relatively sure that I'm who I say I am.

It seems a little odd that something as precious as a vote is dispensed with the most cursory type of verification.

Your point is taken though. Postal voting is easily abused, impossible to police and requires greater emphasis than ID. How do we solve it?

Personally, I'd do away with it, not having the imagination to develop a better way.

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Personally, I think the word "imposture" is better than "personation". This is because it avoids confusion with the (non-criminal) interpretation of caricature or other expression of person by mannerisms etc.

As to the voting problem, if any, a lack of prosecutions can easily arise from a lack of adequate evidence. A lack of evidence, as well as being indicative of no crime, can also be indicative of lack of diligent investigation. While it is true that there may well be little evidence that more evidence should be sought, it is also entirely possible that the 'establishment' plays down the harm to save effort, by setting too high the threshold for investigation or by having no useful means for that investigation.

It is entirely practical for there to be other more economical methods of checking for imposture at polling stations, than the requirement to present prior identification.

One easy way would be to photograph every person presenting to vote and connecting their photograph with their polling card number. In this way, not only would imposture be discouraged but some evidence would be provided, very usefully, as to who was the impostor. Technology for this is in place at many UK border entry points; it takes only a few seconds. The photographs could be retained for say just 6 months: long enough for any complaints to be registered. With this approach, there would be no additional requirement for extension of the process for registration - which would be time-consuming, expensive and too closely linked with the already rejected concept of a National Identity Scheme.

In addition, some (initially) automated checks could be made using biometric face recognition, to check whether the same person voted more than once (unless duly authorised with authority as a proxy).

Best regards

Anonymous said...

Twenty Rothmans....

A simple answer to Postal Vote control is two-fold.

Only those already holding a Blue Disabled Parking Badge should get an automatic free Postal Vote. Anyone else, it costs £20 a time.
Sorted.