Buried official figures ‘demolish’ government case for mandatory voter ID

Posted on the 10th June 2019

  • For immediate release: Statement from the Electoral Reform Society, 10th June 2019
  • Contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk or 07794728820 for further comment/information

New research for the Electoral Commission has dealt a fresh blow to the government’s case for mandatory voter ID, according to the Electoral Reform Society.  

Electoral fraud is far down voters’ list of worries, according to buried BMG Research polling for the Electoral Commission [1]. Low turnout, media bias and foreign interference are much bigger concerns among the public.

And the proportion of people saying voter ID would prevent electoral fraud has decreased dramatically to just 35% – a 17 percentage point drop since December 2016.

The ‘Winter Tracker’ polling also shows up the government’s argument that voter ID is necessary to improve public trust in elections: voters in Northern Ireland are much more worried about fraud than those in England, despite the former using ID. The finding suggests mandatory ID is not a panacea at restoring ‘faith in the electoral process’, as government ministers suggest.

The ERS say the figures discredit government arguments that voters need this mandatory ID imposed in order to enshrine confidence in democracy (see end notes).

Research by the Electoral Commission shows that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) do not have access to any photo ID. And if voter identification requirements were restricted to passports or driving licenses, around million citizens (24% of the electorate) could potentially be disenfranchised.

The costs of introducing such a scheme nationally are estimated to be around £20m [2].

Prior to the 2018 pilots, a major coalition of over 40 leading civil society groups, charities and academics joined the ERS in opposing mandatory ID plans – including Age UK, Stonewall, Liberty, The Salvation Army, Migrants’ Rights Network, the British Youth Council and the Race Equality Foundation [3].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: 

“These figures further discredit the government’s undemocratic push for mandatory voter ID. It’s clear that impersonation at the ballot box is not something the public is worried about for the very good readon that there is little evidence the problem even exists.

“Trust in our democratic system is vital – which is why ministerial scaremongering about fraud is especially dangerous.

“Mandatory voter ID poses an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality. Millions lack the required forms of identification and these plans could see tens of thousands of legitimate voters made voiceless.

“Ministers must now focus on combating the real threats to our democracy – rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”

2019 Electoral Commission BMG Tracker Results [1]:

Democratic problems and priorities

According to the BMG analysis for the Electoral Commission: “The item that most identify as a serious problem is bias in the media (32%), followed by low voter turnout at elections (29%) and inadequate regulation of political activity on social media (19%).”

When asked to score these problems on a scale, with 1 not a problem and 5 a serious problem:

  • 62% of respondents say bias in the media is a problem (4 or 5 on the scale) – the joint highest result. Only 9% of respondents thinking it isn’t (1 or 2)
  • 62% of respondents say low voter turnout at elections is a problem
  • Only 32% of respondents said electoral fraud is somewhat/a serious problem, down 4 points since 2018
  • 41% of respondents say foreign influence on UK election results is a problem
  • 46% of respondents say inadequate regulation of political activity on social media is a problem, with just 15% saying it isn’t
  • 49% of respondents think that inadequate regulation of the money political parties spend on their election campaigns is a problem, with only 13% saying this isn’t a problem
  • 34% of respondents don’t think intimidation of candidates that run for election is a problem, with 26% saying that it is

Electoral safety/fraud

  • The proportion of people saying that showing ID would prevent electoral fraud has decreased to just 35% – a 17 percentage points since December 2016, when 52% of respondents stated this
  • “There has been a small increase in the number saying they feel voting in general is safe from fraud and abuse. 88% say they believe so, up from 84% in 2018. Fewer feel voting is safe from fraud and abuse in Northern Ireland 81% than do in England (88%), Scotland (90%) and Wales (85%).”
  • 36% said that voting in general is very safe from fraud or abuse – up 8% since 2018. 52% said voting is fairly safe – down 4% on 2018.
  • “There continues to be a gulf between those stating voting at a polling station is safe from fraud and abuse compared to postal voting. Nine in ten say that voting at a polling station is safe (90%), compared to seven in ten for postal voting (68%). Indeed, the proportion saying so for voting by post has declined slightly from 73% in 2018.”
  • “Electors in Northern Ireland are more likely to state that elections in their country have been affected by electoral fraud. Around a third (36%) of respondents in Northern Ireland say so, which compares to 23% in England, 23% in Scotland, and 29% in Wales.”

The polling also shows that, when asked what could increase their satisfaction with registration, the most popular change is automatic registration when people turn 18 (or 16 in Scotland) – 26% state this preference (same as in 2018).

Being able to check whether one is registered online and having one’s registration update automatically when one moves house were the second and third most popular options (chosen by 23% and 16% of respondents respectively).

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Chloe Smith MP, Former Minister for the Constitution:

“The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy. There is clearly the potential for electoral fraud in our system and that undermines confidence and promotes perceptions of vulnerability. When fraud is committed in elections, it is not a victimless crime; people’s votes are stolen or someone is elected who should not have been elected…

“Voter ID is part of the Government’s commitment to improve the security and the resilience of the electoral system that underpins our democracy and will promote greater confidence in our democratic processes.”

[1] https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/259809/Winter-Tracker-BMG-Report-2019.pdf  The Electoral Commission has been supportive of mandatory voter ID.

[2] Voter ID rollout to cost up to £20m each General Election https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/voter-id-rollout-to-cost-up-to-20m-each-general-election/

[3] ‘Unprecedented’ coalition of charities and civil society demand rethink on ‘dangerous’ voter ID trials https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/unprecedented-coalition-of-charities-and-civil-society-demand-rethink-on-dangerous-voter-id-trials/

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