When you vote in Britain, there is a relaxed feeling in the polling stations. This is a long-established part of our culture, the atmosphere seems to say, and you are trusted to follow its rules. But, as Sir Eric Pickles’s review of electoral fraud suggests, the ballot is not nearly as secure as it should be. If that trend continues, the results will be called in doubt, and then democracy really is in trouble. For a long time, I have suspected the process and so, in the recent EU referendum, I tried a couple of experiments, helped by the fact that I am legally registered to vote in London as well as Sussex (though of course one may cast only one vote in a national election or referendum).
In Sussex, I went to the polling station early. I took my polling card, which is not compulsory, and asked the clerk what the significance of the barcode on it was. He had no idea, so presumably it has no security function (or the clerks are poorly trained). I voted to leave the European Union. Then I caught a train to London, where I went to my local polling station. There I presented my London polling card, unchallenged. I went into the booth and wrote on the ballot paper ‘I am spoiling my ballot because I have voted already. This second vote is my protest at how lax the voting rules are.’
I had agreed this in advance with the editor of this paper, as being in the public interest. If it is so easy for hundreds of thousands of people who legitimately have more than one vote (e.g. second-home owners, students) to vote more than once, it must be almost equally easy to acquire more than one vote by false registrations at legitimate addresses.
There is a school of thought which fiercely objects to identity checks at polling stations because they discourage the less educated. No doubt such checks could be used oppressively, but surely, in a computer age where an ID check is an everyday occurrence for most people, it can be fairly and simply done. If we don’t take voting validity seriously, we don’t take voting itself seriously. It is typical of the official sense of priorities that while almost no effort was made to ensure my voter identity, I have in the last two years received 41 letters in my London flat, where I do not possess a television, threatening me with investigation and prosecution unless I buy a TV licence.
This is an extract from Charles Moore's Notes. The full article is available in tomorrow's issue of The Spectator.