All the ways the government decided not to make their voter ID rules fairer

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 23rd January 2023

This May, millions of people will be asked to bring photo ID to the polling station for the first time. We’ve raised concerns that the list of ID options published by the government gives few options for younger voters, but it’s poorer voters of all ages who will suffer. Many of the non-passport forms of ID the government has decided to accept require a passport to apply for.

Let’s be clear, there is no need for photo ID at polling stations. Voting is safe and secure in Britain, and public confidence in the running of elections is the highest since 2012. According to the Electoral Commission’s latest tracker of public opinion 90 percent that voting at the polling station is safe. In 2019, the last general elections year, there were only 33 allegations of impersonation at the polling station, out of over 58 million votes cast.

The government has had many opportunities to make its voter ID rules fairer, and decided to go with the strictest rules every time.

Rejected: Forms of ID suggested in the Pickles Review

The government set the ball rolling to bring in voter ID with the 2016 Pickles Review. But the options for ID in polling stations in the report were much broader than the final list of acceptable ID.

The report suggested asking voters for their date of birth or national insurance number along with their address and name, as well as asking them for a signature or show a bank card.

Rejected: ID you can use to pick up a parcel but can’t use to vote

When the government first announced their plans, they compared showing ID to vote to showing ID when picking up a parcel. Ignoring the fact that those that can’t afford ID probably aren’t doing large amounts of online shopping, the government also decided against allowing many of the forms of ID you can use to collect a parcel.

The following can all be used to collect a parcel, but not to vote: Trade union cards, digital ID such a Post Office EasyID or Yoti, birth certificates, building society book, cheque books, cheque guarantee cards, council tax payment books, credit cards, credit card statement, debit cards, marriage certificates, police warrant card, national savings bank book, paid utility bill, Standard Acknowledgment Letter (SAL) issued by the Home Office for asylum seekers.

Rejected: Forms of ID trialed in 2018 and 2019

The government piloted mandatory voter ID at the English local elections that took place in 2018 and 2019. Five councils participated in the trials in 2018, and ten took part in 2019. Over a thousand people were turned away and didn’t return during the pilots.

With little to no evidence of voter ID in any of the areas, these were not trials to see if voter ID actually would deter fraudsters, but if councils could deliver the voting restrictions.

Poll cards with barcodes were tested, along with the option of two pieces of non-photo ID if you didn’t have a photo ID. Only allowing photo ID was the most restrictive requirement and was the option the government decided to go with.

Rejected: The voter ID Lords Amendment

During the Elections Act’s passage through parliament, the government was defeated by the Lords on an amendment that would have expanded the list of acceptable ID.

The amendment would have added the following forms of ID: a birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate, an adoption certificate, the record of a decision on bail, a chequebook, a mortgage statement, a bank statement, a credit card statement, a council tax demand, a P45 or P60 form, a Standard Acknowledgement Letter (SAL) issued by the Home Office for asylum seekers, a trade union membership card, a library card, a pre-payment meter card, a National Insurance card, a workplace ID card, a student ID card, an 18+ student Oyster photocard or a National Rail Railcard.

This amendment was removed by the government later in the Elections Bill’s progress to becoming law.

Rejected: The advice from experts on voter ID

One option suggested by Professor Toby James of the Electoral Integrity Project for how to make the system fairer was to allow for ‘vouching’ – if your partner lacked ID, but you had it, you could vouch for them to prove their identity. Your identity would be recorded and both of you would commit an offence if you had lied.

This was suggested as an amendment at the Bill’s Committee Stage in the Commons, but rejected by the government.

A voter ID scheme stricter than any American State

The recent growth of voter ID rules in America has regularly been labeled as voter suppression. But, even in states with rules described as ‘strict’ by the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures voters without acceptable identification are given a provisional ballot and asked to take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted. For instance, they could return to an election office after the election with an acceptable ID.

There are no provisions like this in the UK legislation. If you are planning to vote on the way home from work and forget your passport in the morning, that’s it.

Across the whole legislative process, the government has turned down options that would have made demanding ID at the polling station less restrictive. It’s even ignored options that would make life easier for those that have ID but mislaid them on the day.

Experts, electoral administrators, and the Electoral Commission have warned about the risks of rolling out voter ID in haste, yet ministers have continued to push ahead. It’s time the government cancelled this dangerous plan.

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