Mark Whitehead 01 March 2018

Piloting voter ID - what it means for local government

When it comes to decision time in local or national elections, voters traditionally stroll along to their local polling station on the day, say who they are and where they live, show a voting card if they have remembered to bring it - it is not required - then go into the booth and register their choice.

But that could all soon change. Pilot projects being carried out in five local authorities for next May's council elections mean voters will have to show ID before they will be given a ballot paper.

Woking, Gosport, Bromley, Watford and Swindon have volunteered to take part in the trial which will evaluate photographic and non-photographic ID to see which is most effective and efficient in combatting 'voter personation' - also known as vote stealing - where one person pretends to be someone else in order to use their vote.

The voter ID documents required in the current pilot project will be decided by each council but the list is likely to be long so as to ensure that no genuine resident is wrongly barred. The list published by Bromley, for example, includes a passport issued by the UK, a Commonwealth country or a member state of the EU, to a driving licence, an immigration document or some kinds of travel card.

Alternatively, the voter can bring two documents from a list including a debit or credit card, a birth, marriage or civil partnership certificate, a bank or building society cheque book or a council tax letter sent out in the previous 12 months. One of the two documents must include the voter's address.

If someone is unable to provide any of these documents, they can apply for a Certificate of Identity by filling in a form including their full name and address, confirmation that they cannot provide any of the other documents and an 'attestation in writing from a person of good standing in the community'.

The councils involved in the pilots are working with the Cabinet Office and Electoral Commission to run public awareness campaigns so that people know what they will have to do to be able to vote in May. But it will make clear there are no exceptions - if someone turns up without the relevant documents, they will not be allowed to vote.

The trial will not be the first time ID has been required in UK elections - voters in Northern Ireland have been required to show photographic proof of identity since 2003 which has reduced - but not eliminated - cases of personation, previously said the be 'rampant'.

The new pilot project was launched by minister for the constitution Chris Skidmore last September after reported cases of alleged electoral fraud through voter personation more than doubled between 2014 and 2016. He said reports of fraud 'undermine democracy and weaken the United Kingdom’s strong tradition of holding free and fair elections.'

The Electoral Commission will carry out an evaluation of the pilot projects after the May elections and publish its findings in the summer.

Will the scheme help tackle electoral fraud? Read our full feature here.

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