London No ID. Indiana Show ID?

by Ekua Boateng // Published May 1, 2008

America of course is in presidential election year, with the race to the White House decided on November 4 2008. I'm a British citizen, and in the UK we are also in an election cycle -- that of the local elections, London Mayoral and London Assembly elections, which being concurrently held today, May 1 2008. I cast my absentee ballot recently, using the instant runoff system for mayor and proportional representation system for the London Assembly.

At this time it is always pertinent to consider if regulations and laws on electoral administration are fit for purpose, i.e. combating electoral fraud, in the pursuit of free and fair elections. There are various ways to prevent voter registration fraud, one way that is not without its controversy is to mandate that registered voters must bring specified photo ID to the polls. This is already a requirement in the state of Indiana, which is meant to guard against a voter impersonating someone else – something that has never been proven to have happened in Indiana, before or after its new law. On the flip side it can be suggested that this could disenfranchise certain sections of the society such as the poor and the elderly who do not have a state drivers license. (For some instructive stats about the voter identification case, see a Brennan Center document on The Truth About Voter Fraud.)

I thought it might be of interest to report how this debate is proceeding elsewhere – recognizing that in most nations the government has established a national ID card that is not restricted to driving. In the UK, the Joseph Roundtree Trust, has published Purity of Elections in the UK that recommends ways to clean up electoral law and administration to ensure transparent, fair and accountable elections. The main recommendations are outlined in The Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which sought to introduce measures to reduce electoral malpractice (can be found on pages 65-66 of the report).

The report's main recommendations were that: there should be individual registration instead of the head of the house hold registering all occupants; two personal identifiers (date of birth and national insurance number) should be required in order to register to vote; that voting by post should be limited; and that all electors should bring specified photo ID (passport, senior-citizens card or electoral ID card) to the polls on election day. Voters are able to obtain a voter ID card from their local election office for free. If a voter does not have the voter ID and they are able to present their passport or senior-citizens card they will be able to vote. Finally they suggest a system of rolling registration, replacing the annual canvassing of electors.

The pursuit of free and fair elections, should be balanced with the aim of ensuring that all citizens entitled to vote are able and the results are transparent and accountable to those who participate in elections. Each nation has its own context for this debate, but the United States is not alone in seeking how best to protect our right to vote.