How government voter ID plans are an expensive and dangerous distraction

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 18th February 2021

Several news outlets report today that new legislation will be announced in the Queen’s speech this spring, to force voters to show ID at the ballot box from 2023.

Make no mistake – these plans are an expensive distraction, at a cost of up to £20m per General Election, according to the government’s own figures.

The policy poses a major risk to democratic access and equality, and it’s totally wrong priority during the pandemic. Let’s not forget that the PM once pledged to ‘eat’ his ID if he was forced to show it by the government – now something he is legislating to do.

Possession of ID is not universal and is particularly low among certain groups of voters. Many of us will know someone who lacks a driving licence or passport. If mandatory ID were to be rolled out nationally, it could result in tens of thousands of voters being denied a say every election.

Research by the Electoral Commission in 2015 showed that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) do not have access to photo ID. If voter identification requirements were restricted to passports or driving licences, around 11 million citizens (24% of the electorate) could potentially be disenfranchised. And getting ID costs time and money, while any ‘free’ ID scheme is likely to be difficult to secure.

Marginalised groups are less likely to have ID: Women, those living in urban areas, the under 20s and over 65s were less likely to hold a driving licence. Indeed, since the 1990s, possession of a driving licence has dropped by 40 percent among under 20s – making it a poor basis for a voter ID policy. A recent survey by the Department for Transport found that only 52 percent of Black people hold a driving licence, compared with 76% of the white population. FCA research in 2019 estimated that 1.3 million people in the UK do not have a bank account.

It’s no wonder then that leading civil society groups, charities and academics – including the British Youth Council, Age UK, Stonewall, Liberty, The Salvation Army, Migrants’ Rights Network, and the Race Equality Foundation – have spoken out against the introduction of mandatory voter ID, highlighting the unequal impact it would have on already disadvantaged and excluded groups.

This is a ‘show your papers’ policy that is the misguided and wrong. It risks pulling up the drawbridge to people across the country.

At a cost of up to £20m per election, this is a colossal waste of energy and resources at a time when we should be focusing on the UK’s recovery.

Ministers should focus on the real problems facing our democracy instead, not least the nine million missing from the electoral roll, and Westminster’s warped political system.

Sign our petition to stop the government’s dangerous plans to deny people the vote

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