Cabinet Office floats multimillion-pound contracts to develop online voter ID service

Written by Sam Trendall on 27 October 2021 in News
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Government’s Electoral Integrity Programme seeks digital partners

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The government is seeking supplier partners to help develop online services to support plans to require voters to prove their identity.

The Elections Bill put before parliament this summer proposes a number of reforms to UK electoral processes, including a requirement for digital imprints that make clear who is behind online campaign material. The bill also proposes new sanctions intended to protect candidates and campaigners from intimidation, tighter rules on who can handle postal votes, and the removal of the current 15-year limit on votes and political donations from overseas.

The legislation is also set to introduce a requirement for citizens to prove their identity in order to vote. 

To enable the measures contained in the law, the Cabinet Office has launched three procurement exercises, two of which seek tech firms to develop new digital services for identity verification and the attainment of voter cards that will be offered to those without any other form of photo identification; the third contract covers changes and improvements to the existing Register to Vote online service.


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Discovery-phase research is currently taking place, and the department is now looking for support with alpha development; once this phase is complete in each case, the Cabinet Office may retain the incumbent supplier or retender for delivery of the beta phase.

Over the course of the next two years up to £3.75m will be spent with suppliers working on development of the online tools.

The contract notice said: “The Electoral Integrity Programme will deliver key government manifesto and ministerial commitments including the national roll out of voter identification; making it easier for overseas electors to vote; improving the transparency of political campaigning; measures to secure our democratic processes, improving the security of postal and proxy voting; and making polling stations more accessible. To deliver this transformational work, primary legislation has been introduced to parliament. The programme will run change projects concurrently to deliver substantial supporting secondary legislation, and digital innovation plus the infrastructure across the United Kingdom to support the successful delivery of the government’s vision.”

Bidding for delivery of the alpha phase of the voter card service – which will, once complete, will allow those without any form of photo identification to apply online for a free ID card that can be presented at polling stations – closed on Monday. 

Bids are open until midnight on 5 November for the contracts covering work on the existing Register to Vote platform and the delivery of a new online “identity verification process” for voters.  

There are, as yet, scarce details of what all these services will look like or how they will operate.

But, in all cases, the alpha phase will incorporate the iterative development of “blueprints and designs” and “user research of prototypes – including paper-based routes” for users without access to digital technology.

The beta phase will cover the construction of the services, as well as testing of their functionality and security.

Work is due to begin next month, with the services due to launch publicly in early 2023 – in time to support the planned implementation of a mandatory identification for that year’s local elections.

The Elections Bill has attracted fierce criticism from political opponents and campaign groups – in particular the voter ID plans, which many have warned serve little purpose and could disenfranchise millions of people.

The Electoral Reform Society has called the initiative “an expensive distraction”.

“Evidence from around the world shows that forcing voters to bring photographic ID to the polling station just makes it harder for people to vote – while doing little to increase faith in the integrity of the system,” it said. “We don’t need to spend millions to put up barriers to people taking part in our democracy.”

Cat Smith, Labour’s shadow minister for democracy, said: “The Conservatives’ discriminatory voter ID plans threaten to reverse decades of democratic progress – these plans come straight out of Trump’s playbook… Our priority should be to encourage the nine million people missing from our elector registers to get registered, not making voting more difficult. The Government must heed… warnings and urgently rethink this pointless policy.”

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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