Earlier this week we were treated to perhaps one of the oddest Queen’s Speech on record. Aside from the obvious fact that without a majority, this current government will find it difficult to pursue its policy priorities, it also previewed something referred to as the ‘Electoral Integrity Bill’. Following two trials from elections this and last year, the government intends to require people to show an approved form of photo ID in order to vote – in general elections in Britain and local elections in England.
It’s not quite clear why this law is needed. According to the Electoral Reform Society, “out of 44.6 million votes cast in 2017, there was one conviction resulting from the 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud – that’s 0.000063%”. The independent Electoral Commission even states that “there is no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud relating to the 2018 local elections.” It seems to be fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. This law is just political window dressing. It’s a way for the government to say that it takes the issue of safeguarding future elections seriously without having to tackle the real issues.
We know what the real problems with the current system are. We know that the current regulation of funding and spending on campaigns as well as online political campaign adverts is broken. We know that our electoral law isn’t adequate for the realities of political campaigning in the age of social media. We know that our current systems of transparency, monitoring and deterrence are just not working. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency will soon publish its report and recommendations on this issue. It will be clear on exactly what needs to happen now and what will need to happen in the future so that our elections can continue to be fair and free. Here’s a sneak preview: Voter IDs isn’t included.
It’s great to see electoral law in the Queen’s Speech. But until it’s the right kind of reform, nothing will change.