Fringe Box



Opinion: Voter ID Is Necessary But Is Only a Partial Fix

Published on: 24 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 25 Mar, 2023

By Bernard Quoroll

I am a retired former electoral returning officer and Guildford resident. I have impartially conducted every kind of election in the UK over a 17-year period and have undertaken or supervised every aspect of elections management.

Since retiring I have also acted as an international elections observer 29 times, mostly in post-Soviet countries but also within some of the older democracies of Europe. The position is much more nuanced than Brian Creese suggests in his letter: Guildford Residents Need to Know the Impact of New Photo ID Electoral Law.

Firstly, the UK is the only country I have observed where voters were not required to prove their identity in order to vote. Secondly, it is naive to think that nobody cheats in this country. They do but not on a provably large scale, although it can be hard to prove fraud and in the past, the police service has not regarded voter fraud as a high priority.

The introduction of voting by post under Labour created a whole new opportunity for cheating which had to be met by introducing personal identifiers and it should be no surprise that there are few places in the world where online voting is regarded as safe.

The sad fact is that so few people vote, that it does not require many votes to be stolen to change the outcome of an election, especially in local elections where the numbers of people voting are very small.

See also: Voter ID – Strangely More Difficult If You Are Young

Against this background, a requirement to prove identity by one of a number of different means does not seem unreasonable, especially when it is also possible to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate. I personally would much prefer that to carrying an identity card.

I do agree with Mr Creese that some groups of citizens are less likely to be able to prove who they are and that councils and political parties need to make strenuous ongoing efforts in voter education and create as many channels as possible for would-be voters to apply for certificates easily.

As a non-partisan observer however, I am less appalled by such an alleged “anti-democratic decision” by one government than I was when another government introduced postal voting without adequate safeguards.

This is a minor controversy when compared to the fundamental weaknesses that beset our democratic system in a line of travel which indicates that many people are already disenfranchised by ‘first past the post”.

We also face a growing threat for UK elections to be fixed not just on the day of an election but by a growing array of other techniques which are even harder to combat. Our electoral system is coming under increasing pressure to digitise.

Younger voters do not want to queue in polling stations. Politicians want to make voting simpler because the more people vote, the less pressure there is to reform our crumbling polity and because many would prefer not to have to attend an election counts going long into the night.

The GBC election count in 2019.

But whilst it sounds like only common sense to be able to pick a winner by pushing a button, there is a price to pay in transparency and trust. There is no voting system which cannot be hacked. No one can see what is happening inside a computer when votes across a whole nation are being aggregated.

Digitising voting also takes the humanity and heart out of the electoral process. In that sense, I am happy to be counted as a Luddite. Nor have we yet found a way of countering fake news on social media.

Some authoritarian regimes already keep detailed dossiers on the voting habits and preferences of their citizens using geolocated systems. Why would we think that could not happen here?”

A good starting point is at least to make sure that elections procedures themselves are as secure as they can be without unreasonable requirements. In doing so we are only catching up with the rest of the world who no longer have as much to learn from us as we might fondly think.

See also Bernard Quoroll’s interview:Council’s Complaints Process Is ‘Not Fit For Purpose’ – Says Retired Chief Exec and Council’s Complaints Process Is ‘Not Fit For Purpose’ Pt 2 – How Do We Fix It?

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Responses to Opinion: Voter ID Is Necessary But Is Only a Partial Fix

  1. Stuart Barnes Reply

    March 24, 2023 at 12:13 pm

    Postal voting is where the most “fixes” happen and are easiest to arrange. There is a strong suspicion that it was opened up to all and sundry for that very reason.

    It needs to be reduced to the very minimum possible asap if we are to have genuinely fair elections.

  2. John Lomas Reply

    March 24, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    There were two easy ways to use impersonation in the old system.

    If a canvasser or other person knew of electors who would not be voting they could be impersonated.

    Or, in a family using postal votes a dominant member could insist on everybody voting the way he/she wanted.

    This loophole has not been closed and I don’t see how it could be.

    • Stuart Barnes Reply

      March 25, 2023 at 8:52 am

      The effect of the loophole John Lomas mentions could be reduced if the current rules for obtaining postal votes were taken back to the old rules.

      As I understand it, previously, an acceptable reason had to be given (eg medical problems) before such a vote could be granted.

  3. Barry Williams Reply

    March 24, 2023 at 4:21 pm

    Perhaps the Government should issue every UK citizen with a secure national ID card ?

    The state knows me by many different reference numbers, including those for:

    Driving Licence
    National Insurance number
    NHS Medical Cards
    GHIC Global Health Insurance Card
    UTR code for Tax Returns
    and the list goes on.

    Following the up front cost there is surely an economy of scale and costs saving to the taxpayer over time in having all these references replaced by one i.d number / id card ?

    I for one do not see an id card as infringing my liberties, in fact i would find it re-assuring and assisting in prevention of voter and criminal fraud and identity theft.

    • M Durant Reply

      March 25, 2023 at 11:42 am

      There was no need for the introduction of photo ID. Its introduction will put off more people from voting and instances of voter fraud were very rare.

      It’s a cynical attempt by the government to prevent people from lower social economic backgrounds from voting, so trying to control the course of an election.

  4. Mark Stamp Reply

    March 28, 2023 at 11:17 am

    Given the data on people being turned away (and if they come back with ID) is being collected, why will it not be part of the declaration of the returning officer in the same way as spoiled ballots?

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