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Election watchdog makes ID card U-turn

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UK election scrutineers are pushing for polling stations to require tougher proof of identity to reduce the risk of ballot-rigging, but do not want voters to be forced to bring photo ID.

The stance is a reversal of statements made by Electoral Commission chairman Sam Younger just a year ago.

Launching the Electoral Commission's analysis of election procedures, chief executive Peter Wardle said the current system of allowing the head of each household to register on behalf of other residents was too open to abuse. He said newspaper reports today that the UK would follow Northern Ireland by requiring photographic proof of identity were wrong, however.

Wardle's chairman suggested to The Times in August 2007 that driving licences, passports or a special electoral ID card should be produced to obtain a ballot paper.

But Wardle told the Today Programme this morning: "At the moment we're not pushing for that. What we are pushing for is a change to the registration system so that each of us goes on the register, takes individual responsibility for that rather than relying on the head of the household, and we give identifiers - signatures, dates of birth, national insurance numbers - so that our identity can be checked."

The Electoral Commission probe was launched in the wake of a series of high-profile local election scandals that revealed political parties were abusing the postal vote system to stuff ballot boxes. Requiring each voter to register individually would make such fraud more difficult, the Commission said.

Northern Ireland's photo ID requirement was introduced in 2003 in response to concerns over people casting multiple votes at different polling stations, but Wardle said the scam had yet to make an impact on the mainland. "If photo ID is a step we need to go in the future we'll look at that again," he said.

The Commission's analysis also calls for returning officers to take better control of election processes, and for government roles to be more clearly defined. You can read the report here (pdf). ®

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