Civil society coalition demand rethink of ‘risky’ voter ID plans

Posted on the 30th July 2018

Civil society groups from the LGBT Foundation to the Salvation Army say the plans still pose huge risks for democratic engagement and disadvantaged groups – following report by the Electoral Commission.

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society and 21 other organisations and figures.
  • Spokespeople are available for interview or further comment. Contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk or 020 3743 6064.
  • Full letter at end of press release.

Dozens of the UK’s leading civil society groups have written to the Constitution Minister asking her to ‘think again’ and halt moves to impose mandatory voter ID.

The letter, spearheaded by the Electoral Reform Society, is signed by 22 organisations, campaigners and academics – including Age UK, Liberty, the British Youth Council, Centrepoint and the Runnymede Trust – comes after an Electoral Commission report into five Voter ID trials during May’s elections.

The groups are concerned that requiring voters to show identifying documentation could prevent or dissuade people from voting – particularly those from already marginalised groups and the millions who do not have a valid form of photographic ID.

The watchdog’s report concluded that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns and answer questions about the impact of identification requirements on voters.” [1] – and that lower-income C2DE individuals were half as likely to be aware of the pilots happening compared to their better-off ABC1 neighbours.

Around 350 people were denied a vote, after being turned away and not returning, in the five trial areas in May – a figure the government hailed as a ‘success’. That compares to zero allegations of personation fraud (the type ID claims to tackle) in any of the areas in the past 10 years.

The signatories state:

  • Trials at local elections do not tell us about the effects of a voter ID requirements during a general election, when the strain on polling station staff will be higher and when a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote
  • The policy is a hugely disproportionate response to the type of fraud it seeks to prevent, namely personation. 350 people were turned away from voting for not having the correct ID in the five pilots compared to 28 allegations of in-person fraud made in total in 2017 out of 45 million votes
  • The policy continues to pose a risk for disadvantaged groups and those already on the margins of politics
  • The government’s plans for further trials are a distraction from the many more pressing challenges our democracy faces – not least in the wake of revelations of wrongdoing in the EU referendum – and run against the Cabinet Office’s plan to improve democratic engagement

Full list of signatories:

  • Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society
  • Caroline Abrahams, Age UK Charity Director
  • Dr Helen Cameron, Head of Public Affairs & Social Policy, The Salvation Army
  • Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust
  • Corey Stoughton, Acting Director, Liberty
  • Jo Hobbs, Chief Executive, British Youth Council
  • Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation
  • Dr Shazad Amin, CEO, MEND
  • Balbir Chatrik, Director of Policy and Communications, Centrepoint
  • Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive, LGBT Foundation
  • Alex Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
  • Janet Morrison, Chief Executive, Independent Age
  • Matteo Bergamini, CEO & Founder, Shout Out UK
  • Matt Gillow, Founder, TalkPolitics
  • Eric Kostadinov, Managing Director, TalkPolitics
  • Dennis Reed, Director, Silver Voices
  • Professor Matt Henn, Chair of Social Research, Nottingham Trent University
  • James Cathcart, Director, Young Voices Heard
  • Sarah Pickard, Senior lecturer and researcher on young people’s political participation, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle.
  • Andy Gregg, CEO, Race on the Agenda
  • Beatrice Orchard, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, St. Mungo’s
  • Dr Ben Stanford, Lecturer in Law, University of Coventry

Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society, said:

“There is now a huge groundswell across civil society urging the government to change course on this damaging policy. These are organisations working with some of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK – all calling for ministers to think again.

“The trials held in May were deeply flawed, and this has now been recognised by the Electoral Commission in its report.

“The five areas totally failed to reflect the diversity in British society – and have failed to allay fears that marginalised groups could be disproportionately affected.

“In light of the Electoral Commission’s report we remain deeply concerned about Voter ID and the potential damage to democratic participation and political equality in this country. We urge the government to think again.

“There has still not been a sufficient explanation from the Constitution Minister about why Voter ID in this form is being prioritised.

“We are told it is to tackle fraud – but Electoral Commission figures show that there were just 28 allegations of in-person fraud made in total in 2017, out of 45 million votes cast. In contrast, 350 people could not vote in the pilots as a result of the ID requirements. This policy remains a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Voters are far more concerned about the accuracy of the electoral register, biased media coverage and the influence of big political donors – voter ID is simply not a priority for Britain.

“It is not too late for the government to redirect its resources and seek to address the many serious democratic concerns.”

Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust, said:

“We know from the Windrush scandal that it can be difficult for minority groups to provide documents proving their identity, through no fault of their own.

“We also know from examples around the world that they are more likely to be disenfranchised when voter identification requirements become stricter. It is shocking, therefore, that none of the pilots took place in more diverse areas.

“Runnymede calls on further pilots to determine whether voter identification changes will increase already existing racial inequalities in voting rights, and to learn how Britain can better tackle the voter registration gap which currently exists.”

Jonathon Graham, Policy Advisor, The Salvation Army, said:

“Across the breadth of our support services, we regularly work with people who have experienced severe disruption to their domestic lives.

“Often this instability, which can include experiences of homelessness, domestic violence, and mental and physical ill-health, will leave people without the means to obtain or safely store important documentation, such as a passport.

“Rather than adding to the democratic process, The Salvation Army believes Voter ID will only serve to enhance the systemic barriers to wider participation in society that so many of the people with whom we work already face.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

See also: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/what-were-these-so-called-trials-of-voter-id-supposed-to-prove/

[1] https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/244950/May-2018-voter-identification-pilots-evaluation-report.pdf

Full letter:

Dear Ms Smith,

We write following the publication of the Electoral Commission’s report on this year’s Voter ID pilots.

The findings in this report fail to allay our concerns that mandatory ID will disproportionately impact the most marginalised groups in society.

The report highlights that the sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. The inability to reach any such conclusions was exacerbated by the homogeneity of the five pilot areas.

The report notes “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns and answer questions about the impact of identification requirements on voters”. We agree with this conclusion. As it stands, this policy has the potential to create a significant barrier to democratic engagement for the communities we represent.

Additionally, trials at local elections do not tell us about the effects of a Voter ID requirement during a General Election, when the strain on polling station staff will be higher and when a much broader cross-section of electors turn out to vote.

It remains the case that Voter ID would tackle only a small category of voter fraud, namely personation, of which there is little evidence of a widespread problem. Yet it has the potential to disenfranchise a significant number of legitimate voters.

350 people were turned away from voting for not having the correct ID in the five pilots areas in May, and did not return.  When compared to the 28 allegations of in-person fraud made in total in 2017 – out of nearly 45 million votes – it is clear this scheme is anything but a proportionate response.

Further trials are a distraction from the many more pressing challenges our democracy faces. There are other measures which the government could be pursuing, which would do more to help meet the Cabinet Office’s plan to improve democratic engagement.

We urge the government to think again about imposing this risky policy of voter ID.

Yours sincerely,

[Signatories listed above]

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