The commission’s independent evaluation of the Government’s pilots, held in 2018 and 2019, found no evidence that turnout was significantly affected by the trialled introduction of an ID requirement at polling stations. However, it was not able to draw definitive conclusions, particularly on the likely impact at a national poll with higher levels of turnout. The commission has recommended that any ID requirement should be secure, accessible and realistically deliverable. The detail of the Government’s proposals for a free, locally issued voter ID card will be key to ensuring accessibility.
The proportion of people without ID is higher among certain demographic groups, including those with disabilities. Research published by the Cabinet Office in May 2021 found that 96% of the public held some form of photo ID that respondents thought was recognisable, including ID that had expired. The commission has provided independent advice to parliamentarians on how the measures in the Elections Bill would affect the accessibility of the electoral process, and it will continue to highlight changes in the electoral system that could support increased participation—for example, better use of existing public data to modernise the electoral registration system.
Given the scant evidence of electoral fraud by members of the public trying to cast votes to which they are not entitled, do the commissioners share my concern that attempting to introduce voter ID is an attempt to solve a problem which, in reality, simply does not exist?
The commission has made no detailed assessment of the number of fraudulent votes that could be prevented as a result of the Government’s proposed policy to introduce a voter ID requirement. While levels of reported electoral fraud in the UK are consistently low, they do vary, and there is no reliable methodology for forecasting instances of electoral fraud. The commission has highlighted the lack of an ID requirement as a vulnerability in polling stations across Great Britain, and public opinion research shows that this is an issue that concerns voters.
The Elections Bill not only requires Scottish voters to show ID at UK general elections, but gives the Westminster Government powers to set the Electoral Commission’s strategy and policy statement. Given that the Scottish Parliament also pays towards the commission, is this not another case of a grubby Westminster power grab and an attack on our devolution settlement?
The Elections Bill covers the whole of the UK, but some provisions would apply differently to elections in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The commission’s view is that as drafted, the proposals for a strategy and policy statement are not consistent with its role as an independent regulator. The scope and power is significantly broader than is the case with similar mechanisms in place for other regulators, such as Ofcom, Ofgem and Ofwat, which do not include giving guidance about specific matters.
The existence of an independent regulator is fundamental to maintaining confidence in our electoral system. It is vital that there is no actual or perceived Government involvement in the commission’s operational functions or decision making.