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Electoral fraud: Voters will have to show ID in pilot scheme

Voters will have to show proof of identity in a government pilot scheme to reduce electoral fraud.

Some councils in England, including Birmingham and Bradford, will trial the scheme at local elections in 2018.

Constitution minister Chris Skidmore said the pilot would “ensure the integrity of our electoral system”.

But former London mayor Ken Livingstone said it was a “political” move and would make life more difficult for most people because of a handful of crimes.

A full list of the participating councils has not been released, but the government wants to use the pilot scheme to see if it should be rolled out across the whole country.

Different councils will trial different types of photo ID, including driving licences, passports or utility bills to prove addresses, although the creation of a new form of ID specifically for voting has been ruled out by ministers.

Northern Ireland already requires voters to show ID before casting their ballot.

Mr Skidmore said fraud was unacceptable and he wanted to protect the rights of voters to have their say.

He defended the plans against allegations they could disenfranchise poor people who do not have ID, telling BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “Voting is one of the most important transactions you can make as an individual. In many transactions you need a proof of ID.”

The pilot would test which form of ID worked best, he said, bringing the UK in line with some other countries.

The minister added: “I’m determined to ensure, when it comes to groups who are under-registered, that they get the opportunity to exercise their vote.

“Ensuring those communities are protected, that the risks of electoral fraud are diminished, will ensure those individuals are represented fairly across this country.”

Pickles’ plan

The reform was first touted by former cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles in August, when he released recommendations amid growing concerns about electoral fraud.

He tweeted that the government was “right to give greater powers to electoral officials and the police to deal with intimidation and other unwanted behaviour”.

Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs, Cat Smith MP, said the party supported the plan.

However, she said more needed to be done to ensure eligible voters were registered after a change to the rules by the Conservatives in February meant people had to register as individuals, rather than as a household – a move that saw thousands of people drop off the register.

“The government’s priority should be to ensure the integrity of the system, but also to address the fact that under them hundreds of thousands of people have fallen off the register due to their unnecessarily rushed changes,” she said.

“Despite what the Tories say, they have been more interested in fixing the rules to suit themselves, rather than helping the many eligible voters who are not on the electoral roll.”

‘Not justified’

Mr Livingstone, who was suspended from the Labour Party and is currently an independent, said the Conservative government was the driving force behind the idea.

“The real problem is the people most likely not to have a passport or a driving licence are going to be the poorest and that I suspect will basically hit the Labour Party,” he told Today.

He continued: “It’s really bad to make life more difficult for the vast majority of people when you’re dealing with a handful of dodgy council people…

“If we had a real problem with fraud, as you’ve got in some dodgy countries around the world, it would be justified, but it really isn’t.”

As well as the trials, election officials and police will be given new powers to tackle intimidation of voters by activists, who will also be banned from collecting postal votes for submission – a practice known as “harvesting”.

And the government has said it is also considering plans to check the nationality of voters to stop fraudulent registrations.

There will also be reforms to improve the security of the postal ballot system, such as requiring postal voters to re-apply every three years.

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