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United Kingdom: Identification Trial at Polls to Prevent Electoral Fraud

(Jan. 5, 2017) The Government of the United Kingdom recently announced its intention to hold trials in certain polling stations to combat electoral fraud by requiring voters to show photographic identification, such as a driving license or passport, in order to receive a ballot paper to vote.  This is one of a number of measures introduced as a result of a report published in August 2016 that made several recommendations to the government to “tighten controls around the conduct of polls to eliminate electoral fraud.”  (Press Release, Cabinet Office, Eliminating Electoral Fraud in Polling Stations (Dec. 27, 2016), GOV.UK; Sir Eric Pickles, Securing the Ballot (Aug. 2016), GOV.UK.)

The report, written by Sir Eric Pickles in the wake of findings of fraud and corrupt and illegal practices during the Tower Hamlet elections, leading to the disqualification of the elected mayor, found that the British electoral system is open to abuse that is “facilitated by weaknesses in the system employed throughout Great Britain.”  (Pickles, supra, at 2; Erlam v. Rahman, M/350/14 (2015) (QB).)

The report covered 50 recommendations, including:

  • reviewing the registration system to include systematic checks on nationality and ensuring that registration application forms contain warnings that nationality information will be checked against government records;
  • examining the feasibility of using an automated approach to check nationality and the possibility of creating a separate register for individuals who have permission to live in the UK but who do not have voting rights;
  • requiring the use of English (or Welsh, where appropriate) language at polling stations at all times, even in any assistance provided to voters by staff;
  • providing Returning Officers (the officials who conduct elections) and the police with more powers to address behavior around the polling stations that could be considered a nuisance or intimidating;
  • replacing the test to establish that intimidation has taken place, currently contained in the Representation of the People Act 1983, with a new test that has a lower standard;
  • providing UK-wide guidance to Electoral Registration Officers to determine the residence of voters; and
  • prohibiting the use of any cameras in polling stations to prevent voter intimidation and preserve ballot secrecy. (Pickles, supra, at 4.)

The Government responded by announcing it intends to focus on three main areas to help prevent voter fraud.  These are: preventing voter intimidation, ending postal vote harvesting, and conducting pilot trials of requiring identification in polling stations.  The Government noted that this would be achieved through guidance and secondary legislation, and that it would also consider using primary legislation to strengthen offenses and penalties, subject to the availability of parliamentary time.  (Cabinet Office, A Democracy that Works for Everyone: A Clear and Secure Democracy (Dec. 2016), at 2, GOV.UK.)