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Gale's View - 23/10/2019

October 23rd 2019


Of all of the issues raised within the recent Queen`s Speech only one, other than Brexit, appears to have excited much, if any, public “outrage” and that is the proposal to require the production of identification prior to exercising the right to vote in a general election.


I have worked, over thirty six years in parliament, in many countries of the world including much of Africa and more recently throughout the forty-seven Member States embraced by the Council of Europe. In most of them, in order to prevent electoral fraud, identification is required .  Indeed, closer to home in Northern Ireland, which is so far as I am aware still a part of the United Kingdom, voter ID has been required and implemented without difficulty since 2003 and there has, in the province, been no impact upon turnout or participation in elections. Indeed, the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland has indicated that the system used has improved confidence in the electoral process.


It is a sad fact that in recent elections a significant number of cases of `personation`  - of a person exercising several votes on behalf of other people without a  lawful proxy – and of dual voting by people registered at more than one address have occurred. In extreme cases that has led to the voiding of elections and to criminal charges. It is for this reason that the use of voter ID has been supported by the  independent Electoral Commission and by the international observer body,  the OSCE.


The Government is proposing two categories of change: accessibility (companions in polling stations and requirements upon returning officers to support people with disabilities) and anti-fraud measures to include voter ID and a tightening of the postal and proxy voting procedures.


Contrary to the alarmist view peddled by at least one organisation responsible for the generation of `round-robin` e-mails to MPs the form of ID will not be confined to the passports and driving licences that many people do not hold but will embrace a wide range of documents including, for example, concessionary travel passes, PASS scheme cards and photocard parking permits issued as part of the Blue Badge scheme.  For voters without an alternative the local authority, as the supervisory body (The Chief Executive is the Acting Returning Officer who presides over the election) will be required to provide local electoral ID free of charge to ensure that everyone eligible to vote has the opportunity to do so.  Voter ID pilot schemes have already been conducted in  Pendle and Woking 2018 and 2019. In the 2019 sample of 34,800 people voting  a total of only 100 required Local Elector ID issued by the local authority.  Importantly, for those who  are opposed to ID on `Big Brother` grounds, local issued electoral ID will not be recognised as  a national ID card .

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