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.
Here in the UK, 3.5 million citizens do not have access to photo ID and 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence – research from 2019 estimated that 1.3 million people in the UK do not even have a bank account. That makes mandatory voter ID a barrier to many people exercising their right to vote.
It’s not clear how non-photographic utility bills would tackling any of the alleged problems.
Trials of free electoral ID documents involved prospective voters having to take time off work and caring responsibilities to travel to council offices to request them. Those that can most easily take time off work 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 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 local council workers be able to turn people away from polling stations due to bureaucratic errors?
UK elections are safe and secure
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 lobbying laws 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.