Voter ID will damage democracy

Raising suspicions about non-existent voter fraud will undermine trust in democracy.

James Heartfield

Topics Brexit Politics UK

In his first Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson has proposed an Election Integrity Bill, which would force voters to show their ID to prove who they are on election days. Critics – who are mostly Labour supporters – are up in arms over the proposal, arguing that it will penalise younger, poorer and non-white voters. They are right to raise concerns.

The immediate backdrop to the Voter ID proposal is that many people fear that there is voter fraud going on at the moment, despite the fact that impersonation is rare. But in 2014, a review by the Conservative local government secretary, Sir Eric Pickles, raised the suspicion that postal votes were being abused to harvest votes among South Asian communities. The implication was that some of the votes were not truly the choice of the people in whose name they were cast. If politicians get into the habit of doubting the validity of votes cast by black and brown citizens, that will have a markedly corrosive effect on the political process.

At the core of these concerns about voter fraud, however, is a fear of the voters more broadly – and the unpredictability of their choices. The instinct to clamp down on the voting public springs from a similar anti-democratic impulse as that expressed in the attacks on the Brexit vote.

Regardless, a number of recent cases have continued to cause concern. The best known was that of Lutfur Rahman, whose election as mayor of Tower Hamlets was struck down by an Election Court that was convened to investigate allegations of corruption. The archaic charge of ‘undue spiritual influence’ was used to undermine his election after local imams were seen to have instructed people to vote. This charge has been on the statute books since the emancipation of Catholics alarmed hardline Protestants so much that they could only be mollified by a law limiting priests from telling their flocks which way to vote. Much more concerning was the evidence of postal votes being gathered up before the election.

More recently, the Peterborough by-election raised complaints by the Brexit Party after its candidate, Mike Greene, won a majority among votes cast on the day but lost when the postal votes were added. A surprisingly large share of the 33,998 cast votes were postal votes: 9,898. The role of activist Tariq Mahmood in the election – he was jailed for 15 months for electoral fraud in 2008 – was also cited as evidence that Labour’s Lisa Forbes’ slim majority of 683 was unfairly won. (Full disclosure: I canvassed for Greene and was also frustrated about the outcome. A number of allegations of malpractice were initially found by police to be unfounded, but the matter is still ongoing and there is a legal challenge still to be heard in the High Court.)

Reforms in the early 2000s allowed any elector to request a postal ballot without giving a reason. Since then, there has been a heightened prospect of abuse. But as things stand, there are not many serious cases of electoral fraud in the UK. Evidence suggests that in-person voter fraud is particularly rare.

Raising the alarm about voter fraud would have a negative effect on UK elections in the same way that it has in the US. That people are challenging election outcomes is itself a sign that the system is much more mistrusted today than it was in the past. And sadly this greater willingness to refuse to accept the outcome of votes has been reinforced by the political class’s attempts to delay and frustrate the result of the 2016 referendum.

Democracy depends on trust. Voter ID would do more to undermine confidence in the democratic process than reinforce it. People value the vote very highly – especially when they can see it being denied to them. And one inevitable consequence of introducing Voter ID is that many people, potentially thousands of people, will be turned away from the ballot box. The sight of this would put a huge question mark over elections and reinforce existing distrust of the political system.

The erosion of trust works both ways. If suspicion of voter impersonation is heightened, losers will more readily blame bad results on crooked voting. Meanwhile, the parties whose supporters are more likely to be stopped from voting will also call the validity of elections into question. The tendency to dismiss election results as ‘rigged’ will become stronger on all sides.

The voting system in Britain is the outcome of centuries of struggle and civic engagement. The degree of trust that allows us to vote on the basis of showing up and giving our names is a real boon. We should be proud of the fact that voters are not generally called upon to ‘produce their papers’ – though for some parts of the community, that has become a more common experience than for others. There might well be a case for stricter conditions on postal voting, but Voter ID will do more harm than good. Let’s not go down that path.

James Heartfield is author of The Equal Opportunities Revolution, published by Repeater, and a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party in Islington North. He is writing here in a personal capacity.

Picture by: Getty.

CLARIFICATION: This article was amended to reflect that a legal challenge regarding the Peterborough by-election result is still to be heard in the High Court.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Marvin Jones

21st October 2019 at 10:29 am

Has this naïve lefty ever been to the lands of the black and brown people, and observed the extent of the bribing, blackmail and corruptness in their genetic make up of their political systems? There is virtually nothing one can achieve or attain without a back hander being involved. Postal voting must only be available for dis-abled people who are unable to get to the relevant site, or for exceptional reasons. Everyone must have a valid ID with a photo on their visit. This excuse about the poor and whoever not having a passport or driving licence is merely a group that have no beneficial purpose in society, so maybe should be provided with ID cards as mandatory.

Jonathan Swift

19th October 2019 at 2:41 am

“Raising the alarm about voter fraud would have a negative effect on UK elections in the same way that it has in the US. That people are challenging election outcomes is itself a sign that the system is much more mistrusted today than it was in the past.”

In the US, election fraud has been proven. In several places there have been more votes cast than registered voters. Then there is the issue of dead people voting. There was a recent lawsuit to force Los Angelos to removed dead people from their voting rolls. Chicago has a long history of letting dead people vote. The reason Donald Trump is President is because our Electoral College system limits the effect of voter fraud, because even if a State reported a billion votes for a candidate, that State would not get any more votes in the Electoral College which decides Presidential Elections.

The excess votes and dead voter issues haven’t happened yet in States that have a Voter ID Law.

The only complaints about Voter ID Laws come from the Party that controls the areas where most voter fraud has occurred.

They say it hurts the poor, but you have to have a valid ID to get welfare!

They say it is voter suppression. Yes, it does stop people from voting for someone else.

Charlie Newman

18th October 2019 at 7:04 pm

Come off it Spiked. Sometimes I think you talk tosh just to be interesting. Be careful with that!

Neil McCaughan

15th October 2019 at 11:13 am

Voter ID damages democracy less than electoral fraud. The case for tightening up is incontestable.

Bryan Seals

19th October 2019 at 4:51 am

Completely agree, I can understand the paranoid Big Brother thinking, but there is a bigger issue with invented people and ”mysteriously” disappearing postal votes. I ws a victim of this. I had been living in Thailnd for less than a year and I applied for my promised postal vote, well within the allotted time. I received my papers on the day of the referendum, but unsurprisingly there was no polling station ln Kanchanaburi. I have heard rumours that up to a million British citizens in Europe were deprived of their right to vote and if this is the case a close result would have been even closer. I am an unashamed remainer, not connected to any elite groups and have worked my bollocks off for 40 odd years and am now retired. As far as I can see, Johnson is conducting the ”search for a deal” with the aid of smoke and mirrors” He hasn’t got a democratic bone in his body. I am sure that he believes in taking back control, but not in the way brexitters dream of.The ERG and hedge funds will prosper, anyone else can take a running jump. I wish everyone back in what will soon be ”Little Britain” the best of err…British and the sooner Johnson is deposed, the better for the country. ”Keep the aspidestra flying”

Emma Miller

15th October 2019 at 9:10 am

Not only do we need Voter ID, but we also need to make sure people proof their ID when they get onto the electoral rolls.
It’s way to easy just to phone in and make a couple of people up.
People without british citizenship can easily say they are British citizens, no id checked, instant voting for them.

Postal voters need to be scrutinized.

Usually agree with spiked, but we act as if we all live in villages where every voter is personally known.

nick hunt

15th October 2019 at 1:58 am

“Raising suspicions about non-existent voter fraud will undermine trust in democracy.”
So ignoring fears about voter-fraud will bolster trust in democracy. Sure thing. And this naive nonsense comes from a candidate for the Brexit Party, which has been so screwed over by obvious voter fraud (and remainer voting alliances) at the last two byelections. Unbelieveable

steve moxon

15th October 2019 at 12:16 am

YMBJ. Electoral fraud is the Liebore speciality, and has been for decades.
‘The people’s party’ firmly believes nobody could or should possibly vote for anyone but ‘the party of the people’, and the end justifies any and every means.
Ally this attitude with migrant enclaves of imported grand scale nepotism and you have a huge problem.
Postal voting should be abolished, with turning up in person with voter ID the only way to cast your ballot.

Martin Bishop

15th October 2019 at 12:05 am

Does anyone know why we are still using graphite on tree shavings rather than voting online? It seems peculiar that we can do pretty much everything online, mortgage, bank accounts, gas, electricity, shopping, book GP appointments, pay bills, join a library etc.. But when it comes to voting the argument tends to be that it’s less secure than a piece of paper with pencil that can be rubbed out or spoiled deliberately. Maybe VoterID is a waste of time and a modern overhaul would be better. Once we go online, it would be easier to have more referendums/votes on other things.

Stephen Brown

15th October 2019 at 11:30 pm

If it’s electronic and digital, it can be hacked and forged. There’s no such thing as a “secure” digital system. End of.

George Mansfield

14th October 2019 at 10:18 pm

Sorry, no. The premise of this article is utter bollocks. The belief is that there is widespread voter fraud, and simply dismissing it as not a problem is going to do little to satisfy the law abiding public.

Voting was a gentleman’s agreement, people could be trusted to cast their vote once and it was a considered to be a fair one man one vote, now? Good luck, and the author is either naive, obtuse or simply plain stupid in the face of several scandals to believe that the political parties have any notion of a “fair” democratic process. And this is in the light of Corbyn’s insane plan to allow any resident of the UK to vote, James, are you really so stupid, not to realise that this pure gerrymandering, and Labour has no qualms about doing so, so long as the “right” people win.

That is far more dangerous to democracy than a simple ID check. It was a mistake to allow postal voting and requesting even the most basic form of ID checks, and if you put your faith in the police after they were found to be, and I quote “institutionally stupid” then you sir, are beyond the pale.

jessica christon

14th October 2019 at 8:22 pm

“If politicians get into the habit of doubting the validity of votes cast by black and brown citizens… ”

A dishonest turn of phrase in an over all crummy article. Voter fraud has only been uncovered among South Asians, not among black people or people of any other background, and if the votes in those communities are given the side-eye in future then it is for good reason. You may wish to ignore the obvious but you’ll have a hard time persuading others to do the same.

Postal voting should be allowed at all other than in very narrowly defined circumstances, but voter ID is a good idea and should be quite popular. Most people disapprove of things like what happened in Tower Hamlets and would welcome a sensible solution such as this as a way to stop it from happening again.

jessica christon

14th October 2019 at 9:09 pm

“Postal voting should *not* be allowed at all…” that should say.

James Knight

14th October 2019 at 7:07 pm

The way of the world. I can’t pay a utility bill without providing a DNA sample. I suppose I could be laundering money through EON for some drugs King Pin, but it seems unlikely.

Jim Lawrie

14th October 2019 at 7:00 pm

Millions of the low paid workers are not on the electoral register because they would lose the single person discount on the council tax. It is a poll tax. The cost to them for voting is £300 per year.

Life Coach

15th October 2019 at 8:36 am

Do you mean that they were defrauding the council tax system would be exposed?

Jim Lawrie

14th October 2019 at 5:21 pm

When I was a landlord in London I frequently came into possession of multiple voters cards.

Trust has gone because the 3rd worlders brought with them their morals and customs.

a watson

14th October 2019 at 10:46 pm

Yes, and the Blairite thugs drafted into the London Labour Party over the last decade.

Dominic Straiton

14th October 2019 at 4:42 pm

We no longer live in a functioning democracy. We live in a banana republic with the monarch hiding behind a sofa( her father would be deeply ashamed) . As such we need photo identification and a finger dipped in ink to avoid double voting with UN representatives from Kazakstan at poling stations.

Doug Harry

14th October 2019 at 4:22 pm

I have lived in several African countries since 1978. In every one no one would trust voting without voter ID and rigorous oversight of voter ID processes. What if how much voter fraud exists is irrelevant and the important point for voters is how rigorous the system appears to be? What if they need that to trust their democracy? If that is the case, then the opinions of experts is irrelevant – something Spiked stands for.

Ven Oods

14th October 2019 at 3:31 pm

“There might well be a case for stricter conditions on postal voting…”
And lengthy prison time for those caught doing the fiddling.

Stephen J

14th October 2019 at 3:11 pm

Personally, I would have thought that the biggest anomaly in our voting system is the influence that is brought to bear by the parties.

If we were to ban political parties and instead allow pressure groups to campaign for a particular issue that we ordinary folk then had a chance to vote on, we would be heading towards a far fairer system.

They do this in Switzerland, and they never get into the sorts of messes that the UK is seemingly always getting into. The problem is that parties and their MP’s seem to think that the only way to skin a cat is lie, constantly. We never know where we stand.

Francis Lonergan

14th October 2019 at 3:10 pm

“But a subsequent police investigation found that the vote was valid.” Much trust in the police has been lost, especially in areas where they have failed for fear of being subject
to accusations of racism etc. That is maybe why the vote was found to be valid.

When it comes to areas that compromise the multicultural narrative, neither the police or establishment can be trusted. That has to be rectified.

Jerry Owen

14th October 2019 at 2:39 pm

Our system of voting that come about because of civic engagement over hundreds of years is correct but you do not take into account that over the last few decades the demographics of some areas do not resemble places of the past, and these are the areas that partake in voter fraud.
To link the the Brexit vote to voter fraud is a nonsense. There was no allegation of voter fraud in the referendum , the allegations were that Brexit voters were thick.
All in all a rather bizarre nonsensical article, with a spattering of contradictions as well.

Ven Oods

14th October 2019 at 3:18 pm

“To link the the Brexit vote to voter fraud is a nonsense.”
I had the same reaction to that bit.

Geoff Cox

14th October 2019 at 2:15 pm

Trust is the word – and it is not just trust in the electoral system. Crucially though, up till now, those who didn’t trust the institutions could be characterised crudely as an underclass, and relatively small in number. But for 10 years or so, the alienation of white people (men in particular) through the hostility shown towards them due to identity politics, Brexit, the attack on patriotism etc has meant vast numbers of people have / will withdraw their support from society. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. At the same time as immigration and children of immigrants become a bigger and bigger section of the population, society will be hollowed out. My greatest fear is not the loss of democracy which may take twenty years to make a difference, but (1) a breakdown in law and order which could happen much sooner, and (2) electoral corruption on a grand scale.

Everything in society needs trust and cooperation amongst people who have similar life styles and similar aspirations. That has disappeared in 25 years – and it is all the fault of politicians. Who knows what the future will hold, but increasingly my friends are asking “what can we do to protest?”

My answer is not to “smash the system” – tempting though this sounds. No we can make a start by bringing down those who have already smashed the system.

Tony Leatham

14th October 2019 at 2:14 pm

This article is silly, the arguments arbitrary and spurious. There is a widespread belief that voting is already rigged so measures to prevent it will not be viewed with suspicion. Instead, they will be viewed as sensible and reasonable and will improve overall confidence in election results.

I know that Momentum are freaking – and that can only be a good thing.

David Webb

14th October 2019 at 2:05 pm

This is a buffoonish article. Voter fraud is not non-existent. In fact, later in your article you cite examples of huge numbers of postal votes rustled up by organisers. The fact the police investigation found the vote to be valid is meaningless – they are more concerned with promoting multiculturalism, and are the same people who actively collude in the gang rape of young English girls by ethnic communities, so the police are really not impartial. Look, James, you anti-British loon, what corrodes democracy is the fact that black and brown people have the vote in the first place, as they are not part of the demos.

Ven Oods

14th October 2019 at 3:25 pm

“…gang rape of young English girls by ethnic communities.”
That should be ‘small groups within’ ethnic communities, to be accurate.
It’s hard to disagree about the police inquiries, though, especially since the ‘credible and true’ Carl Beech nonsense.

Ven Oods

14th October 2019 at 3:28 pm

“as they are not part of the demos.”
That must be a very particular definition of ‘demos’ that you’ve chosen for yourself…

David Webb

14th October 2019 at 4:16 pm

No: there has to be a sense of a common people for democracy to be meaningful. For people just to trucked in and told, “you’re all citizens”, doesn’t mean that there is a subjective sense of peoplehood among all the holders of the passport. It is you, Ven Oods, who have you’re own personal little definition of the demos – one designed to destroy all nations, and thus, by its own international definition, not a demos at all.

Poppy Piway

14th October 2019 at 10:57 pm

So you are advocating taxation without representation for people of black and brown colour. If that is not racist, then I don’t know what is? It is people like you that have caused the mess in this country. Do you think white South African and white Indians are not allowed to vote in South Africa and India if they are citizens of those countries??? Why should I not be allowed to vote in my country, where I work and pay my taxes, because I am brown? Your comments are unbelievably shocking but not surprising given the current political climate in this country.

Stephen Brown

15th October 2019 at 11:34 pm

Yo, Poppy,
We are FOR every legitimate voter being able to cast a vote, no matter what their skin colour. In Britain your race does not matter. If you are here legally then you have a legal right to vote. What we DON’T want is people forging votes or coercing voting the “right” way. Every voter must be able to make up their own mind and vote accordingly. No Imam or Priest should tell anyone how to vote.

A Game

16th October 2019 at 9:38 am

Yep, they strayed there. We all know what they are talking about, V Oods tried to halt the tide of the generalisations. To say Demos but want to exclude everyone that doesn’t meet the criteria, its no longer the demos.

I think its more of a cultural issue than a racial one, going by the comments, those that don’t see themselves as British, don’t want the system, don’t want to participate in it unless it is to manipulate something, but the article kicked off with brown/black voters, so that set the tone. Lol.

65 million people… its probably time to create a more orderly voting system. So many seats… need to make it harder for more subtle swindles.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.