The government’s rationale for its ill-considered Voter ID pilots was to tackle “electoral fraud” – a criminal offence of which allegations are rightly investigated by the police.
So it doesn’t look good for the government that among the estimated 3,981 people turned away from polling stations for not having the correct ID in last week’s local elections was a police officer.
It is just one of several stories to surface from Democracy Volunteers’ Final Report on last Thursday’s local elections which lays bare some of the trial’s major flaws.
The electoral observers’ report states: “One Police Officer was turned away from voting despite showing his police ID card. Another voter with their NHS card was declined their vote.”
Despite the additional publicity around the new ID requirements – which varied in each of the pilot areas – it is clear the message did not reach everyone with the result that people from respected professions were denied a ballot paper.
Among the other incidents witnessed by observers was “a presiding officer being forced to turn away a male voter whom he had known personally for 35 years.”
This is the perfect example of bureaucracy trumping common sense – and highlights the draconian nature of the plans.
Then there is the issue around the recording of data from the trial and how useful this will be for informing decisions around whether to roll out the policy across the UK.
Concerns were raised by observers about how data capture forms were being filled out: they specifically cite the case of polling station staff recording bank statements (valid in some pilot areas in conjunction with other documentation) as ‘BS’ which was, in fact, the correct coding for a bail sheet. Such problems have led the observers to call for electoral staff to receive more training.
There is a real risk that the blunders of the voter ID trials could be soon be replicated on a national scale.
A further striking observation was made around one particular type of identity verification which was accepted in Swindon – where someone’s identity could be confirmed by another individual.
It was reported that: “In a number of polling stations voters were able to have their identity attested to by presiding officers and polling clerks who knew them – this was the case in Swindon. However, our observers also witnessed party tellers, who were at the door to take numbers for their party campaigns, being used as witnesses to allow some voters to vote.”
As the observers rightly comment, allowing party representatives to attest to someone’s identity, when they otherwise failed to meet the ID requirements, is open to misuse: they might attest anyone as long as they thought they’d secure their vote.
All these examples of how the trials worked in practice are deeply concerning, and should be properly considered by the Electoral Commission.
But the key point about voter ID must not be forgotten – it is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Figures from the Electoral Commission show there were just 28 allegations of impersonation in 2017 out of nearly 45 million votes in 2017 – or one case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Only one of these allegations resulted in a conviction.
Compare that to the estimated 3,981 people turned away from polling stations on Thursday across just five boroughs.
That means the number likely to have been turned away by the voter ID trials outweighs – by a factor of 142 – the total number of allegations of fraud in the whole of last year.
All this follows news that senior electoral officers in the trial areas have flagged major holes in the plans, and the UK’s official statistics watchdog challenging the government’s ‘misleading’ statistics on levels of fraud.
Aside from showing a worrying distrust for voters, the ID trials are riddled with flaws. They must not be a fait accompli for a national roll-out.