LONDON : Voters in Britain should have to prove their identity at polling stations, the elections watchdog said Wednesday, as it launched a study into fraud concerns around ethnic South Asian communities. The Electoral Commission said it was investigating the vulnerability of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities to electoral fraud.
However, despite the recommendation for proof of identity at all polling stations, it rejected calls to restrict access to postal voting - which is at the heart of many allegations - saying it would prevent many innocent people from casting their ballot.
Since 2002, voters in Northern Ireland have been required to show photographic identification at polling stations. However, in the rest of the United Kingdom, they need only give a name and an address - presumably their own - which matches the local electoral register - to be given a ballot paper.
A 14-year-old boy, four years under the legal voting age, managed to vote at the 2010 general election.
The commission said it was concerned about the extent to which ballot-rigging “affects or originates from within specific communities... with roots in parts of Pakistan or Bangladesh”.
Sixteen areas in England were identified as being at greater risk, including Britain’s second city.
Birmingham, where a 10th of the population are ethnic Pakistani, was the scene of a notorious mass postal vote-rigging case in 2004 which the presiding judge said would “disgrace a banana republic”.
Others on the list include the cities of Bradford, Coventry and Derby, plus Tower Hamlets in east London - the heart of Britain’s Bangladeshi community, which forms a third of the local population.
“The evidence and views we have heard raise significant questions about whether individuals within these communities are able effectively to exercise their right to vote,” the commission said.
“It is not acceptable to explain or excuse electoral fraud on the basis of actual or perceived differences in cultural approaches to democratic participation.
“We have begun further work to identify relevant evidence in order to help address concerns about the vulnerability of some South Asian communities.”
The commission called for extra vigilance from officials to protect the integrity of the vote at the next set of elections in May, for the European Parliament and for local authorities.
An earlier report in May said electoral fraud tended to be committed by candidates and their activists rather than voters.
Studies suggested that extended family and community networks in such communities may be being mobilised to secure an effective “block vote” - though that does not necessarily involve electoral fraud.
Likely victims of electoral fraud may be vulnerable due to limited English language skills or understanding of the British polling system. Age, gender and dependency on others were also factors.
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office ministry said it would consider the recommendations and respond in due course.