Free and fair franchise at risk from voter ID plans, say campaigners

Posted on the 28th April 2018

Electoral Reform Society publish first in-depth analysis of government voter ID trials – flagging flawed nature of pilots and concerns over ‘locking out’ legitimate voters

  • For more information or to arrange an interview/further comment, contact med[email protected] or call 07717211630
  • The ERS will be publishing further analysis of the voter ID trials as well as general commentary on the local elections
  • “Voters Locked Out: The Risks of Voter ID in England” is available to read here

The Electoral Reform Society has published the first extensive analysis of the voter ID trials taking place in five areas next week. 

“Voters Locked Out: The Dangers of Voter ID in England” sets out the details of the trials next week – and the dangers the scheme poses to a free and fair ballot.

The briefing points to UK and international evidence on mandatory voter ID – while assessing how many voters may be adversely hit by a UK-wide roll-out [1].

It follows concerns from the Equality and Human Rights Commission around the negative impacts of voter ID on disadvantaged groups [2].

The analysis:

  • Gives the essential information of the voter ID trials – the where, what and how
  • Looks at the dubious evidence base for the policy
  • Analyses the international evidence on voter ID – including the impact on disadvantaged groups in the US
  • Argues the pilot areas will provide insufficient data and information on which to assess the impact of a UK-wide rollout – all the trial locations are self-selecting urban areas, with most in the South East and below-average unemployment rates
  • Outlines the risk of excluding legitimate voters, particularly in light of the Windrush affair

Evidence outlined by the ERS shows that bringing in mandatory ID makes little difference to perceptions of fraud: citizens of US states with strict ID laws don’t feel better about their elections than people in states with more relaxed laws.

Moreover, the pilot group does not include any university towns or areas where the unemployment rate is substantively above the national average. Only one area (Watford) is substantially less white than the national average (in contrast, Gosport is 96.4% white).

A major coalition of civil society groups, academics and charities have joined the ERS in opposing the mandatory ID plans – including Age UK, Stonewall, Liberty, The Salvation Army, Migrants’ Rights Network, the British Youth Council and the Race Equality Foundation [full list at bottom].

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

“It’s hard not to see this as a calculated effort by the government to make voting harder for some citizens. As such it’s vital we think about the risks these changes pose to a free and fair franchise in the UK. We need policy based on hard facts – not rumour and innuendo.

“With millions of people lacking the right photographic ID – and no government plans for a universal, free alternative – this can only mean another barrier for honest voters. The government know this, which makes this policy all the more concerning.

“The government like to compare going to vote to ‘picking up a parcel’ – where some ID is required. Yet mandatory photographic ID would prevent millions from ‘picking up their parcel’ – i.e. exercising their right to vote. And while you can forget your ID for a parcel and pick it up the next day, the same cannot be said for using your right to vote.

“These deeply flawed trials must not be a fait accompli for the government’s plan to roll-out an ill-thought policy.

“Mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s time for an evidence-based approach instead.”

The full briefing is available to read here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Defending-the-Right-to-Vote-Voter-ID-Briefing.pdf

The Right to Vote Coalition 

The Right to Vote Coalition brings together dozens of leading UK civil society groups, charities and academics: 
Operation Black Vote, Royal National Institute of Blind People, St Mungo’s, NUS, Stonewall, Liberty, Centrepoint. Age UK, MEND, The Salvation Army, Migrants’ Rights Network, Unlock Democracy, Shout Out UK, Involve, British Youth Council, Race Equality Foundation, Young Voices Heard, WebRoots Democracy, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Croydon BME Forum, Thomas Pocklington Trust, Young Citizens (formerly Citizenship Foundation), United Response, TalkPolitics, Race On The Agenda, The Monitoring Group, Runnymede, LGBT Foundation, Friends, Families and Travellers, Olmec, Independent Age, Voice4Change England, Royal Society for Blind Children, Council of Somali Organisations, Silver Voices, Gendered Intelligence, Brap

Academic partners from letter: Toby James, Professor Pippa Norris, Professor Matt Henn, Dr Sarah Pickard, Dr James Sloam, Professor Jon Tonge

Further resources

Press release: ‘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/

Blog: Why the government’s mandatory voter ID plans are a terrible idea
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-the-governments-mandatory-voter-id-plans-are-a-terrible-idea/

ENDS

[1] A report published by the Electoral Commission in December 2015 found that approximately 3.5m electors (7.5% of the electorate) do not have any photo ID. If restricted to passports and driving licenses, potentially 11m electors (24% of the electorate) would not have the right ID10. Moreover, in the 2011 Census, 9.5 million people stated they did not hold a passport and in 2013/14 1.7 million lack even a bank account.

[2] See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/21/identity-checks-election-disenfranchise-ethnic-minorities

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