22 Welsh organisations warn voter ID plans could leave vulnerable voters locked out

Author:
Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 14th September 2021

At a time when we should be thinking about how to remove the barriers to our democracy, the UK Government is instead introducing a policy that could leave millions shut out.

Provisions in the Elections Bill to force people to bring ID, that many people don’t have, to polling stations is a backwards step.

We should be considering measures to encourage people to vote rather than investing taxpayers’ money into expensive measures to turn them away. This legislation will disproportionately impact the most marginalised in our society who are more likely to lack the ID needed and leave them effectively locked out of the ballot box

The government must stop and think again. As part of a coalition of 22 groups consisting of Welsh campaigners, charities and civil society groups, we have put out a joint warning that these dangerous proposals risk disenfranchising people that are already having a tough time.

Joint Statement

We are a coalition of 22 organisations who are very concerned about the proposals to require photo ID at polling stations for a series of reserved elections in Wales as laid out in the UK Government’s Elections Bill. These proposals will have a direct impact on the Welsh electorate at both UK General Elections and Police and Crime Commissioner elections and risk disenfranchising already marginalised groups.  

The possession of photo ID is not universal in the UK, or Wales, and getting ID costs time and money, which some citizens may not be able to invest. Research by the Electoral Commission in 2015 found that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) do not have access to photo ID.1Electoral Commission (2015). Delivering and costing a proof of identity scheme for polling station voters in Great Britain. https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_file/Proof-of-identity-scheme-updated-March-2016.pdf  More recently, UK Government-commissioned research on possession of photo ID found that two percent of people do not have any form of ID (including expired/unrecognisable) and four percent do not have recognisable ID (whether in-date or expired).2IFF Research (2021). Photographic ID Research – Headline Findings. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/ attachment_data/file/984918/Photographic_ID_research_headline_findings_report.pdf In its latest winter tracker, the Electoral Commission also asked about possession of photo ID and found that four percent of people currently eligible to vote said they do not have any of the existing forms of ID which may be required under the government’s proposals.3Electoral Commission (2021). Public Opinion Tracker 2021. https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/our-views-and-research/our-research/public-attitudes

We must also remember that those likely to be disenfranchised through the current proposals will not be spread evenly across society. Certain demographics are much more likely to be without photo ID than others, with those belonging to marginalised groups less likely to have ID, and this is an even greater cause for concern. The current proposals will therefore discriminate against specific groups of people within Wales. Earlier this year, three leading US civil rights groups criticised the UK government’s ID plans and highlighted how ID laws disproportionately affect people from poorer and marginalised communities.4Walker, P. (2021). Using photo ID in British elections will harm democracy, say US civil rights groups. The Guardian, 28 February. https://www.theguardian.com/ politics/2021/feb/28/using-photo-id-inbritish-elections-will-harm-democracysay-us-civil-rights-groups  The Electoral Commission’s 2021 winter tracker found that more disadvantaged groups are more likely to not have ID, including the unemployed (11% without existing ID), those renting from a local authority (13%) or housing association (12%), as well as disabled people (8%).5Electoral Commission (2021).

The UK government’s own commissioned research finds that older voters (aged 85+) were less likely to have ID that was recognisable (91% compared to 95%–98% for those in younger age groups).6IFF Research (2021). Disabled people who experience significant barriers and impacts, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID. A survey by the Department for Transport found that 76 percent of the white population hold a driving licence compared with just 53 percent of black people,7https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/culture-and-community/transport/driving-licences/latest#byethnicity-over-time and the number of young people with a driving licence has fallen to a record low.8Davies, C. (2021). Number of young people with driving licence in Great Britain at lowest on record. The Guardian, 5 April. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/apr/05/number-of-youngpeople-with-driving-licence-in-greatbritain-at-lowest-on-record

The problem of in-person voter fraud in Britain is a minuscule one, across all of the elections held in 2019 just 33 alleged cases of personation fraud at polling stations were recorded out of over 58 million votes cast (this represents just 0.000057% of votes).9ERS (2019). Latest voter fraud stats show mandatory ID proposals are still a ‘solution looking for a problem’. 22 March. https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/ latest-news-and-research/media-centre/ press-releases/latest-voter-fraud-statsshow-mandatory-id-proposals-are-still-asolution-looking-for-a-problem/ Mandatory voter ID is a solution looking for a problem and could disenfranchise 10,000s of voters in Wales.

Signed:

  • Jess Blair, Director, ERS Cymru 
  • Rocio Cifuentes, CEO, Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales 
  • Charlotte Davies, CEO, Swansea Music Art Digital
  • Siôn Edwards, Rheolwr Cyfathrebu Y Fenter, The Venture Communications Manager
  • Hanna Andersen, Director of Partnerships & Development, Let’s Talk Politics
  • Paul Glaze, Chief Executive, CWVYS
  • Frances Beecher, Chief Executive, Llamau
  • Fadhili Maghiya, Director of Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP)
  • Grant Poiner, Chief Operating Officer, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Wales
  • Ele Hicks, Engagement, Research, and Policy Manager, Diverse Cymru
  • Yvonne Murphy, Artistic Director & Executive Producer, Omidaze Productions & Creator of The Democracy Box
  • Lynda Wallis, Chair, Welsh Senate of Older People
  • Dereck Roberts, Chair of NPC Wales
  • Louisa Devonish, Advice and Liaison Officer, Gypsies and Travellers Wales
  • Dr Lindsay Cordery-Bruce, Chief Executive, The Wallich
  • Cllr William Powell, Lloyd George Society Committee.
  • Megan Thomas, Policy and Research Officer, Disability Wales
  • Dr Melinda Drowley, Chair of Board of Trustees, Our Chartist Heritage
  • Nick Morris, Head of Policy & Communications (Wales), Crisis
  • Becky Ricketts, NUS Wales President
  • David Wilton, CEO, TPAS Cymru
  • Davinia-Louise Green, Director, Stonewall Cymru

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