Strengthening our democracy

Free and fair elections are the bedrock of democracy. This is what the Elections Bill going through Parliament is all about. Changes are being made to strengthen our democracy, as well as to make sure that our elections are as secure, fair, transparent and as up to date as they can be. The Bill boosts the integrity of our election processes and protects the right of everyone to participate in our elections with confidence that their vote is theirs and theirs alone.

A key plank of the Bill is voter identification. I have always found it remarkable that no identification is required to vote. The first time I voted, I took my passport and my polling card. I was shocked to find that I didn’t need any form of identification for something so important. It’s absurd that I need more identification to collect a parcel from the Post Office than I do to go and vote. The Electoral Commission raised concerns about the vulnerability of polling stations to voting fraud. The Elections Bill addresses this by bringing in new measures to tackle voting fraud and strengthen our democratic processes.

Northern Ireland already has voter identification processes in place. The Northern Ireland MP Jim Shannon says the system works well there and does not discourage people from voting – indeed it has given people identification that gets used for other purposes, such as travelling. The Bill also includes measures to make it easier for people to vote. Absent vote applications can be made online. That will speed up the process, enabling voter identification to work better for all eligible voters.

Equal votes matter too. Some Parliamentary constituencies have less than 60,000 voters, while others have over 85,000. Making sure that constituencies have about the same voting size is essential to ensure that the system is fair overall. There is currently a Parliamentary boundary review being undertaken to look at changes needed before the next general election is due to take place. It will ensure that everyone will have the same ‘voting power’ wherever they live.

In our electoral system, the person with the most votes wins. Over the years, smaller parties have argued for changes to give them more power. These are systems like Proportional Representation and the Alternative Vote. Alternative vote was the subject of a referendum in 2011 – it was heavily defeated. First Past the Post is a tried-and-tested system that everyone understands – and means every MP can be sacked by the voters. It ensures stability for, and accountability of, the winning party.

In a strong democracy like ours, everyone’s vote ought to be equal, every voter must be a real person and the person receiving the most votes should be declared the winner. That way we will continue to have a strong democracy and a voting system we can trust.

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