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Elections: Multiple Voting

Volume 822: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2022


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the number of electors who vote more than once in an election because they are registered at two separate addresses.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lady Featherstone.

My Lords, I assumed that would be the Answer. Does the Minister not agree that it is quite confusing for electors registered in more than one place? They can vote in local elections for both their residences and even in a by-election if it takes place where they are registered. Does he accept that it might be sensible for an indication to be given when you register to vote, either on the form or at the time of registration, that if you are registered in more than one place then you cannot vote twice in a general election?

My understanding is that it is made clear that you cannot vote twice in a general election. Indeed, it carries a criminal offence. You now have to prove your residence as part of the electoral registration process, but I will take that point on board.

My Lords, the Government have now said that they will allow people who have been out of the country for more than 15 years to go on the register. Presumably, if they have two houses abroad, they will be able to go on it twice. What checks will there be to make sure they do not vote more than once?

The purpose of the Elections Act was to ensure that we did not have this arbitrary cut-off point. Those living abroad have always been able to vote in elections for up to 15 years, which we have now extended as part of that legislation. People cannot vote in local elections if one of their properties is, let us say, in Spain, so I do not think that arises.

My Lords, as one who was first elected to the other place with a majority of 179, after three recounts, and later in that year by 141, is not the proposition from the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches correct? Otherwise, there will be tactical voting by students in marginal seats.

I guess people can decide to vote where they want to if they are registered in two places, but in a general election they cannot vote twice. Whatever the system, I am sure that my noble friend could be elected if he stood again, even if in the past it was by a pretty narrow margin.

My Lords, with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, will the Minister recognise that this problem would be easily solved—as would the problems of fraudulent voting, control of immigration, access to public services and counterterrorism —if the coalition Government had not in 2010, at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, abolished biometric ID cards?

This is something of a Groundhog Day Question, as we look back in time. As part of the Elections Act, we have introduced voter identification as a means of reducing electoral fraud.

My Lords, the original Question just referred to the word “elections”. Would my noble friend concur that it is entirely legitimate to vote more than once at a local election?

Of course; to make it absolutely clear, where you pay council tax on two properties, you can vote legally in their local elections. Approximately 495,000 households can legitimately do so.

My Lords, could the Minister estimate how many eligible citizens are not registered to vote? What action is the Minister and his department taking to rectify that situation? Today of all days, can we also remember the 72 victims who lost their lives in the fire at Grenfell Tower five years ago today?

My Lords, it is very important to mark the Grenfell tragedy in which 72 lives were lost—the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. As the noble Lord knows, with his background in local government, we have a system of electoral registration officers—EROs—who know their patch very well, and they go out and do great work in terms of expanding voter registration. This is very much a locally led matter; we have not looked to centralise the electoral registration process.

My Lords, neither an identity card nor any other form of identification takes away the problem that there is no data collected on the extent of multiple registration. In the absence of such data, it cannot be monitored. Moreover, the figures given for whether there was a high or a low poll do not make any sense at all, because in a constituency with a large number of people who are registered elsewhere, it would be quite impossible to gain the 80% or 85% poll that I had when I was first elected to Parliament.

If we look at the levels of allegations of electoral fraud in the first instance, which the police do in collaboration with the Electoral Commission, they are relatively low for a country of over 60 million people. Convictions are also relatively low. We have a system where we are strengthening the process with regard to the use of voter identification when you go and vote, and we have also strengthened the approach to registration by introducing individual electoral registration. I am sure that further improvements can be made over time.

My Lords, would the Minister like to recognise that his answers smack of the Government burying their head in the sand and not accepting that some malpractices do go on? Those of us who have lived in Northern Ireland—where the motto used to be, “Vote early, vote often”—know that where there is election, there will be fraud. Does the Minister not agree that the Government should pay much more attention to what is going on out there in the country?

I do not accept that, unsurprisingly. The Elections Act was guided by the Government’s determination to ensure that our democracy is secure and transparent, and we have sought to place participation at the heart of our democracy. The Act was developed in collaboration with people within the electoral services, following on from the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Pickles.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is the only one of 47 European democracies that does not require some kind of photo ID to vote. It is not even the whole of the United Kingdom, as we have just heard—it is only Great Britain. Given that huge parts of the world in Asia and Africa deal with problems of poverty, illiteracy and remote voting stations and all manage to have some kind of ID without reducing turnout, is it not time that we joined the rest of the world?

As part of the Elections Act, we have introduced a requirement that you have to present some form of ID in order to vote. That should give the public greater confidence, and we are joining Northern Ireland and following its lead.

My Lords, the Minister may in reply to my noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan say, “No”, but how can he challenge the proposition that an ID card number, with its unique personalised identifier, is impossible to misuse in a system that is electronically secure and at the same time capable of capturing data that exposes repeat voting? Ministers can oppose the card’s introduction but cannot challenge the efficacy when the evidence is overwhelming.

The point I was making in response to the noble Lord, Lord Reid, was that that is a battle that was lost. I am sure you can make the case for biometric voter ID, but the point is that the Elections Act introduces the need to produce some form of identification when you go and vote, and that is certainly a step forward.

But is it not right to have the battle again, because there are other advantages? For a start, it is much cheaper than a ticket to Rwanda.

I am sure that noble Lords will always return to fight these battles again and again. Obviously, we have set out our legislative priorities and we have introduced already some measures that will improve the electoral process.

My Lords, I feel quite envious when I hear of people who have two votes. By what logic do noble Lords here in the House of Lords have no vote at all?

To be honest with your Lordships, when I joined this House, I was not entirely aware of that particular provision—it is a disappointment. However, obviously that is the long-standing convention. Of course, we can still vote twice in local elections if we are lucky enough to have two homes.

My Lords, in view of the point made about two separate addresses, can the Minister tell the House whether the Prime Minister is registered to vote at Chequers?

Unsurprisingly, I do not know the answer to that, but I am sure that he is able to vote because that is one of his current properties.