Electoral fraud is a crime that strikes at a core principle of our democracy—that everyone’s vote matters. In our current system, there is undeniable potential for electoral fraud and the perception of this undermines public confidence in our democracy.
In 2016, Sir (now Lord) Eric Pickles conducted an independent review of electoral fraud in the UK, highlighting cases such as Tower Hamlets—in which the 2014 Mayoral election was declared void because of corrupt and illegal practices—as evidence of vulnerabilities in our system which must be addressed.
Building on the recommendations of the Pickles report, the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 set out that we will go further to protect the integrity of our democracy. Measures in the forthcoming Elections Bill will tighten the rules for absent voting and tackle voter fraud and intimidation.
For those who do not wish to or cannot cast their ballot in person, our system should continue to offer choice. Voting by post or proxy are essential tools for supporting voters to exercise their rights. However, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that they are not exploited.
We will bring forward in the Elections Bill a series of measures to give greater protection to all persons with an absent vote arrangement. We will set reasonable limits on the number of ballots a person can hand in on behalf of others and make sure that those people have a legitimate need to be involved.
Currently, once their application has been processed, a voter can hold a postal ballot indefinitely with no further checks or confirmations. We will require those registered for a postal vote to reaffirm their identities by reapplying for a postal vote every three years, adding an additional safeguard to reduce the risk of postal votes being appropriated and stolen from legitimate voters.
Similar to the changes to postal voting, we will set a reasonable limit on the number of voters a proxy can act on behalf of. These measures will improve the integrity of the absent vote process by reducing the opportunity for individuals to exploit the process and steal votes.
Reflecting the recommendations of the Pickles report, I updated the House in March on the Government’s intention to legislate to clarify and improve the offence of undue influence of an elector. Although this is already an offence, the outdated legislation requires modernising, in order to ensure there is adequate protection for electors and that the offence is effective for enforcement agencies.
Asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against the potential in our current system for someone to cast another person’s vote at the polling station. Showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day.
Northern Ireland has used voter identification in its elections since 1985, and expanded this in 2003 during the last Labour Government. In the first general election after photographic identification was introduced in Northern Ireland by the then Labour Government (2005), turnout in Northern Ireland was higher than in each of England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the experience in Northern Ireland has shown that once voter identification is established as part of the voting system the vast majority of electors complete the voting process after arriving at the polling station. A wide range of countries, such as Canada and most European nations, require some form of identification to vote.
New research published yesterday on www.gov.uk clearly indicates that the vast majority of the electorate of Great Britain, 98% of electors, already own an eligible form of identification, which includes a broad range of documents and expired photographic identification. As part of our implementation plans we will also offer a free, local voter card if any elector needs one. The associated documents have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.
Safeguarding the security and integrity of the ballot
Overall, the package of measures introduced in this Bill will reduce the risk of electoral fraud and reassure voters that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the security and integrity of the ballot, giving the public confidence that our elections are secure, modern, transparent, inclusive and fair.