E pur si muove

Voting and identification in the UK

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of being able to vote for the local council as well as for the European Parliament. Since I'm a Belgian citizen living in the United Kingdom this involved convincing the officials at the voting office to re-read their instructions (at first they only allowed me to vote for the local council but not for Europe, I think they must have realised how silly that sounded) but otherwise was quite easy. Too easy.

When I went to the polling station I forgot my poll card, but my colleagues at work said that would be fine (not that going home to pick it up was very far) so I tried it anyway. No problem, the only thing they asked is where I lived, then found my name on their list and let me vote (after above-mentioned debacle). There was absolutely no verification that I was who I claimed to be. Seriously, it is rather trivial to vote for someone else, I'm sure you can visit 2 or 3 polling stations and vote in someone else their name. Just talk to friends and work a little bit together and you can all cast half a dozen votes if you're a little careful. And they have no way of recovering from this, other then having to let everyone using that voting station re-cast their vote.

After some talking to people they seemed to think that there is no single means of identifying someone in an official way in the UK. This means that buying alcohol is better controlled then voting, since there you either have a form of ID (if you look under 21) or you don't get to buy it. But for voting? No ID required, because there is none.

I'm sure the ID card scheme as currently proposed in the UK is not any good, but there does appear to be a problem that might have to be fixed somehow. By now I'm pretty sure that if you give me 2 years I can create a fictitious John Smith person, he'll have a passport, driving license, voting rights, bank account and be native British. Seriously, it's easy. You just need some time.

Sunday, June 07, 2009 |


Anonymous said...

As a EU national living in UK I totally agree with you. Knowledge of someone's name, address and few not-so-personal details is enough to steal their identity. Different companies/agencies handle it differently but in general it's should be quite straightforward to establish new 'non-person'.

To make it worse, difficult communication between different EU countries and their government agencies exposes this vulnerability across whole EU. When I've lost my passport last year during my business trip to Portugal, I haven't got a slightest clue into how much mess this will turn. For example there is nothing like a central stop-list for the passports (except within the country of your origin and the UK - at least I believe so, but the Met Police wasn't very convincing as they can't do anything in order to stop non-UK passport). It took me more than 5 months to specifically request stop-listing of my passport, but I believe that's effective only in the case somebody would be so stupid to travel to the country of my origin.

Is there any solution? I'm not sure. It would require change of the whole system, but you will still have contractors and other entities having access to personal data and with the security blunders we've seen last year there's not much we can hope for.


Andrew Dalke said...

But for the purposes of voting, requiring an ID doesn't help much. First, you have to have someone physically present. That limits the amount of fraud. You have to hope you don't choose someone who is already voted - the duplicate voting is easy to spot. You also have to watch out because a neighbor in the queue might say "that's not actually person XYZ."

That is a low-profit attack, with high penalties if found out. There's been very few cases of this sort of voter fraud.

On the other side of things, if you've lost/misplaced your ID, or had it stolen, then you've also lost your right to vote.

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