Voters should be required to show proof of their identity at polling stations in Great Britain before being issued with a ballot paper for elections and referendums, the Electoral Commission has recommended.
In a report, Electoral fraud in the UK, the watchdog called for the new proof of identity scheme to apply after the 2015 UK parliamentary election and by no later than the 2019 European and English local government elections.
The Electoral Commission said it would publish detailed proposals by the end of this year. It also pointed out that requirements for ID were already in place in Northern Ireland and many other countries.
The move would be part of a drive to tighten up the security of the voting process, reduce the possibility of electoral fraud and maintain public confidence in the electoral system.
The watchdog said fraud was not widespread, but a significant proportion of the public were concerned that it was occurring.
The Electoral Commission also called for action to be taken before the May 2014 elections to tackle the risk of electoral fraud, in particular in ‘high risk’ areas.
The watchdog identified 16 areas with a history of cases of alleged fraud: Birmingham; Blackburn with Darwen; Bradford; Burnley; Calderdale; Coventry; Derby; Hyndburn; Kirklees; Oldham; Pendle; Peterborough; Slough; Tower Hamlets; Walsall; and Woking.
The Electoral Commission said it did not believe it was likely that fraud had been attempted in more than a handful of wards in any particular local authority area.
It added that it did not support introducing temporary restrictions or special measures in specific areas. However, the watchdog did recommend that:
- Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and Returning Officers (ROs) should conduct an analysis of their area's history of alleged and proven electoral fraud, together with electoral data from previous elections. This analysis should then be used to target preventative measures, "including the use of their powers to review registration applications, existing register entries and absent vote applications". In addition, replacement postal ballot packs should be offered to voters who complain that they have had their postal vote stolen or have been pressured into voting in a particulary way against their wishes.
- Police forces should have plans in place for policing elections, drawn up in consultation with EROs and ROs. “Policing plans are likely, for example, to identify specific areas where policing operations on the ground might need to be strengthened, such as around individual polling stations.”
- Candidates, political parties and other campaigners should publicly make clear their commitment to following the Code of Conduct for Campaigners.
The watchdog added that it would continue to closely monitor those areas where there was a higher risk of allegations of electoral fraud in 2014 and beyond. It will also provide continuing guidance and support to EROs, ROs and police forces across the UK.
A further recommendation in the report called for a strengthening of the Code of Conduct for Campaigners, in particular by restricting the involvement of campaigners in absent vote administration processes.
To be introduced by the 2015 elections, this would mean campaigners no longer handled postal or proxy vote application forms or completed postal ballot papers.
The watchdog said it would discuss these changes with political parties and other campaigners. If it is not satisfied that campaigners were prepared to comply with the strengthened requirements voluntarily, it will consider whether to recommend that the law should be changed.
A revised Code of Conduct for Campaigners is expected to be introduced for elections after May 2014, including the May 2015 UK Parliamentary general election. Details of which parties and campaigners have agreed to follow the code will be made public, the Electoral Commission added.
Jenny Watson, chair of the watchdog, said: "Proven cases of electoral fraud are rare and when it is committed, the perpetrators tend to be candidates or their supporters. Voters are the victims and sustained action is needed now to prevent fraud from taking place. Although the introduction of individual electoral registration this year will tighten up the registration system more can and should be done.
"Voters value the contact that they have with campaigners. But as we look to the next General Election, there needs to be a change in campaigner behaviour in order to help rebuild trust in the system. Campaigners must no longer handle postal votes, or postal vote applications under any circumstances. We should be able to achieve this through a strengthened Code of Conduct. But if we cannot, we will recommend that the law is changed.”
Watson added: "Looking ahead, the time has come for England, Scotland and Wales to move towards a requirement for voters to produce ID at polling stations. This would strengthen the system and bring Great Britain into line with Northern Ireland and many countries where this is already in place.”