Election watchdog urges proof of ID for voters

Gavin Cordon,Press Association
Tuesday 27 July 2010 08:42 BST

Ministers should consider requiring voters to produce proof of identity when they go to the polls, the official elections watchdog said today.

The Electoral Commission said that the Government needed to develop a "comprehensive electoral modernisation strategy" in order to ensure the long-term health of the system.

In its report on this year's general election, the commission said that in the majority of constituencies the elections were well run, without major problems.

However it warned that the coalition Government's ambitious programme of democratic reforms was likely to add to the pressure on the machinery of electoral administration.

It said that ministers needed to look at ways of strengthening the system in order to maintain public confidence.

Among the measures it recommended was a review of the case for requiring proof of identity for voters casting their vote at polling stations.

Currently only voters in Northern Ireland are required to present some form of photographic identification when they go to vote.

The commission said that it received complaints from a small number of electors who were unable to vote because someone else was already issued with a ballot paper in their name.

It also called for a further strengthening of the postal voting system, with the personal identifiers on all returned postal voting statements being verified before the ballot papers are counted.

More than 220,000 of the more than five million postal votes cast were disqualified because the postal voting statement, which must be returned with the vote, did not tally with the details on their original postal vote application.

Currently, this checking process only has to be carried out on a minimum of 20% of the postal votes cast.

The commission also expressed concern that some postal votes were rejected because of simple errors, such as people incorrectly entering their date of birth, and called on the Government to look at ways to enable such mistakes to be corrected.

In other measures, it said that the electoral timetable needed to be rationalised in order to avoid the problems created by the clash in the deadlines for new postal vote applications and new elections.

And it said that the voting arrangements for armed forces personnel serving overseas and other overseas electors needed to be improved.

The commission already issued a special report on the problems which occurred at some polling stations where some people were still queuing when the polls closed at 10pm and were unable to vote.

It reiterated its call for ministers to change the law to allow anyone who is in a queue at the close of poll to be allowed to vote.

Commission chairwoman Jenny Watson said: "We are lucky to have inherited a trust-based system from previous generations. But this cannot endure for ever.

"The basic building blocks of electoral administration need long-term support and reform in order to ensure that voters can be sure that their vote counts.

"Voter confidence is fragile and may take time to rebuild after high profile problems like the ones experienced at some polling stations at 10pm.

"In the vast majority of constituencies elections were well run - but this is despite the system, not because of it."

Ms Watson said today that the present system could not last.

She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I think it's at breaking point and what we saw in some places on election day was that it broke.

"We are calling on the Government to really modernise the system and make it fit for a modern democracy.

"We cannot go on with the system we have."

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