View from Westminster 6th January 2017

2017 should be an interesting year. A new US president; elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands; and, of course, we will be triggering Article 50 by the end of March, putting in train our leaving of the EU. These are all huge events, determining our future one way or another. But now is not the time to speculate about their outcomes or their implications.

But 2017 will bring changes to something as mundane as our elections. What has always amazed me is the lack of scrutiny over who is actually voting. In my experience as one of the activists on polling stations, the vast majority of people turn up to vote with their polling card – a document sent out by the council to tell you your number, where to vote and to confirm that you are registered to vote. But you don’t need to bring it with you. Believe it or not, you can currently vote on the basis of just saying who you are – with no proof whatsoever.

The government is looking to change this, to ensure that you are who you say you are when voting. But, it seems, some political parties think this unnecessary. They think that it is OK to have a system where your vote can be stolen; where an individual can go to the polling station, say they are someone else and as long as the name and address are correct and the named person has not already voted, they can vote in someone else’s name.

Most countries have a system for ensuring that people do not steal votes or only vote once. Northern Ireland has an ID system, whilst other countries have a system as simple as dipping a voter’s finger in a bottle of ink to prove they have already voted.

Current proposals include showing a driving license, passport or utility bill to prove identity. I accept that some may have none of those – an 18 year old may not have taken a driving test, got a passport or have a utility account (unless you include mobile telephone accounts). But in the 21st century we will be able to work out these subtleties.

The argument will run on, but I would view with deep suspicion anyone who wants to avoid voters having to show the most basic forms of ID. After all, what’s in it for them?