A secure electoral system is a vital component of a healthy democracy. The Elections Bill will update elections law and deliver on manifesto commitments to protect our democracy and ensure that it remains secure, transparent and fair. It includes provisions on, overseas electors, the voting rights of EU citizens, the accessibility of polls, identification to vote at polling stations and digital imprints as well as provisions aimed at tackling postal vote fraud, undue influence and intimidation at elections.
I understand your concerns about certain provisions in the Elections Bill, including identification to vote in polling stations. However, identification to vote has been backed by the Electoral Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which state that its absence is a security risk.
In Northern Ireland voters have been required to produce personal identification before voting in polling stations since 1985, with photographic identification being required since 2003 when introduced by the last Labour Government. Ministers at the time noted that “the Government have no intention of taking away people’s democratic right to vote. If we believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because of this measure, we would not be introducing it at this time.”
The Electoral Commission has also commented that “since the introduction of photo ID in Northern Ireland there have been no reported cases of personation. Voters’ confidence that elections are well-run in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than in Great Britain, and there are virtually no allegations of electoral fraud at polling stations.”
Under the Government’s proposals, anyone without an ID will be able to apply for a new free one – meaning that no voter will be disenfranchised. I believe that a secure electoral system is a vital component of a healthy democracy, and the public must have confidence that our elections are secure and fit for the 21st century.
The Elections Bill, more broadly, responds to recommendations in Lord Pickles’ report into election fraud published in 2016 and builds upon long-term objectives set out in the Government’s wider Defending Democracy Programme. The changes it will introduce alongside the Online Safety Bill and the Counter-State Threats Bill will protect our democracy from new and evolving threats and underpin the systems which support it.