Local elections: Experts warn voter ID plans could undermine the right to vote

Posted on the 30th April 2019

The Electoral Reform Society have warned that the government’s mandatory voter ID plans could ‘undermine the right to vote’, as 10 councils prepare to turn away those without ID this Thursday.

Voters will be required to present personal identification before casting their ballot at the polling station in Braintree, Broxtowe, Craven, Derby, Mid-Sussex, North Kesteven, North West Leicestershire, Pendle, Watford, and Woking councils.

Two other councils originally signed up to the scheme but later dropped out amid fears about resources and voters being excluded. Ribble Valley council said the process would be ‘too resource intensive’ and East Staffordshire council said it was ‘concerned about the time allowed for us to communicate with the electorate what valid forms of ID would be permitted.’

Around 350 people were turned away and didn’t come back to vote in last year’s voter ID trials, raising fears the policy will disenfranchise large numbers of voters if rolled out nationally.

A new briefing [1] by the Electoral Reform Society highlights figures from the Electoral Commission showing that, of the 266 cases investigated by police relating to the 2018 local and mayoral elections and local by-elections, the majority (140) were campaigning offences and just one in five (57) related to complaints made about the voting process itself [2].

Personation fraud at the polling station – the crime of pretending to be someone else at the ballot box, which is what the government’s continuing voter ID pilots claim to address – accounted for just eight of the 266 allegations made in 2018. No further action was taken for seven of these allegations and one was locally resolved.

The government estimates rolling out voter ID nationally could cost up to £20m per General Election [3].

The ERS are calling on the government to abandon the ‘show your papers’ policy, and to instead invest in improving democratic engagement and modernising ‘dangerously outdated’ campaign rules.

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

“Forcing all voters to show their papers at the polling station is a solution looking for a problem. Across the UK there were just eight allegations of ‘personation’ last year – the type of fraud voter ID is supposed to target. It is time for the government to listen to the evidence.

“As the Electoral Commission have made clear, there is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud in the UK. Yet the government are failing to deal with the real democratic problems we face, from dangerous loopholes allowing foreign donations and interference to worryingly low turnout in council elections. Rather than spending up to £20m per election on making it harder to vote, we should be encouraging participation and ensuring online campaign rules are fit for the 21st century.

“Most electoral offences are committed by parties rather than voters. Yet it is innocent voters who lose out when the government locks ordinary people out of democracy – and millions risk being excluded from our politics because of these plans.

“The proposed changes to voter ID laws that are being trialled by the government risk further dividing our democracy. Ministers should scrap this costly policy before wasting any more time on this dangerous distraction.”

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 [4].


Notes to Editors

[1] New briefing available here (embargoed): https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ERS-Briefing-Voter-ID-April-2019.pdf

[2] Latest voter fraud figures available here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/latest-voter-fraud-stats-show-mandatory-id-proposals-are-still-a-solution-looking-for-a-problem/

[3] Cost of ID policy: 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/

[4] 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/

See also: Urgent Question on voter ID earlier this month https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tory-minister-chloe-smith-slammed-14276387

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