Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore has ruled out introducing legislation to reform election processes – but the government still hopes to roll out a voter identification system at poll stations across the UK.
The demands of Brexit on parliamentary time made such a bill impossible, said Mr Skidmore though he indicated some of the 50 reforms advocated in Sir Eric Pickles’ report on electoral fraud might be enacted by other means.
In a speech to the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers’ (Solace) elections conference, Mr Skidmore said: “As we prepare to leave the European Union, we must recognise that this is in the context of an unprecedented demand on parliamentary time and therefore, there will not be capacity for a discreet electoral bill to take forward those proposals requiring primary legislation in the near future.”
Mr Skidmore said he would, though, look for ways to implement reforms not needing primary legislation, or through clauses attached to other bills.
The government’s priorities were to “make sure that voters are safeguarded against intimidation by activists and political campaigners when they attend polling stations”, said Mr Skidmore.
He added: “We will seek to end the harvesting of postal votes by political supporters, and we will give careful consideration to using data (such as on nationality) to prevent fraudulent electoral activity.”
Pilots would be held to test the practicality of requiring voters to bring identification with them to polling stations, and ministers would “look to introduce a voter ID system at polls across the UK” if these are successful, said Mr Skidmore.
He noted election officers’ concerns over the large number of polls due in May 2020 but did not say any could be rescheduled. They include a general election, local elections, polls for police and crime commissioners, various elected mayors and the Greater London Assembly.
He also said the government would help with administrative problems caused by its plan to allow Britons resident overseas to vote for life, rather than only for 15 years after emigration.