I’m sure you’ll agree that a secure electoral system is a critical component of a healthy democracy, and from much correspondence with local people I know the public must have confidence that our elections are secure and fit for the 21st century.
I am inclined to believe that asking voters to bring ID to their polling station, bringing the rest of Britain with Northern Ireland, is an understandable attempt to achieve this and is the purpose of the forthcoming Electoral Integrity Bill.
As you’ll know, the requirement for Voter ID in the UK is not at all new. Northern Ireland had required paper ID at polling stations since 1985, and photo ID since 2003 – introduced by the last Labour Government. It has proved to be extremely effective at tackling fraud and has not curtailed election turnout.
Identification to vote has been backed by the Electoral Commission. In addition, it is supported by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, who state that its absence is a security risk.
At present, it is more difficult to take out a library book or collect a parcel at a post office than it is to vote in someone else’s name, which – I’m sure you’ll agree – is a bizarre state of affairs.
In pilot schemes in 2019 and 2018, the overwhelming majority of people cast their vote without a problem and the success of the pilots proves that this is a reasonable and proportionate measure to take, and there was no notable adverse effect on turnout.
The Electoral Commission also say that "the experience of taking part in the pilot scheme appears to have had a positive impact on people’s perception of the security of the polling station process, and on their confidence in it... Polling station staff were satisfied with how polling day went and were confident that they could manage the process of people showing voter identification at future elections."
I have consulted extensively with Ministers and other colleagues about the plans to introduce Voter ID. Fears of exclusion from voting really can’t be justified when, under the proposals, anyone without an ID will be able to instantly apply for one, free of charge, from their local council. So no voter will be disenfranchised.
Please be assured that I will never support any Orwellian extension of this to turn into some form of compulsory ID card, as was proposed by Labour’s David Blunkett 17 years ago (which would have contained biometric and personal data stored on a government database), but of course no such plans are, or will be, mooted. This is as simple as showing your driving licence to pick up a parcel.