A barrier to democracy – for some
There’s evidence that strict voter ID rules in the USA disproportionately disadvantage already marginalised groups. Why? Unlike in mainland Europe where everyone has a mandatory national ID card, in the UK and USA the richer you are the more likely you have ID. Many citizens who can’t afford to go on foreign holidays don’t have passports, and those that can’t drive don’t have driving licences.
Research shows that more disadvantaged groups are less likely to have ID. The government’s own commissioned research found that those with severely limiting disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID.
Here in the UK, millions of people lack the strictest forms of photo ID, such as a passport or driving licence. Government-commissioned research found that 2% of people don’t have any form of photo ID (including expired or unrecognisable) and 4% don’t have recognisable ID (roughly 2.1 million people) – making mandatory voter ID a barrier to many people exercising their right to vote.
Obtaining free electoral ID cards involves prospective voters having to take time off work and caring responsibilities to travel to council offices during opening hours to request them. Those that can most easily take time off from work or caring responsibilities to do this are usually the most likely to already have ID. This expensive plan simply makes it harder for some people to vote.
An expensive distraction
It’s not just those without ID that will have to pay up, either buying ID cards or giving up paid work to apply for ID documents at a distant town hall. The government’s own figures suggest the scheme will cost up to an extra £20,000,000 per general election.
We’ll all pay – and for what? Making it slower to vote – as poll workers try to match passports with ten-year-old photos to their owners and driving licences that are still in voter’s maiden names. Should already over-stretched local council workers be able to turn people away from polling stations due to bureaucratic errors?
UK elections are safe and secure
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, 80 percent of people are confident that elections are well run, 87 percent said voting in general is safe from fraud and abuse, and 90 percent that voting at the polling station is safe.
We need to be combatting the huge challenges that undermine our democracy, not putting up paywalls around polling stations.
Nine million people are missing from the electoral roll, there are glaring loopholes in our campaign rules and online political adverts still don’t have to say who paid for them. But the government needs to think very carefully before using an extremely blunt instrument to deal with a complex and varied issue.
So while voter ID might sound like an easy option, raising barriers to voting is rarely something to be welcomed, particularly in our already less-than-perfect democracy.