Ministers accused of misleading Parliament over voter ID discrimination risks 

Posted on the 30th July 2020

A series of Freedom of Information requests has revealed that Government departments do not know who will be hardest hit by mandatory voter ID plans – despite ministers claiming that “the evidence shows there is no impact on any particular demographic group.”

Cat Smith MP made a series of FoI requests to the Home Office [1], Passport Office and Department for Transport, all of which showed that they do not hold data on possession of passport/driving licence ID by ethnicity.

What evidence we do have suggests that those who lack some forms of photo ID are disproportionately non-white, while those on lower incomes and older voters could also be adversely affected. Equality groups have previously warned of an electoral Windrush 2.0 scandal’ if voter ID is imposed.

The Electoral Reform Society has pointed to the the Government’s determination to import ‘US-style voter suppression’ policies while ignoring genuine threats to democracy, as outlined in the recent ISC Russia Report.

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

“How ministers can claim that mandatory voter ID will not discriminate – when they have apparently failed to gather any evidence – is baffling and looks deeply misleading.

“The research we do have suggests that this policy will disproportionately hit people of colour, older voters and those on low-incomes.  Studies in the US show that in places without universal ID, such laws unfairly lock millions out of the ballot box, skewing the system and deepening political inequalities. We must not import US-style voter suppression to the UK.

“With no effort to assess the impact of these proposals, ministers are playing a very dangerous game indeed. There are urgent problems with democracy which need solving: a warped voting system and millions left off the electoral register. Instead, this show-your-papers policy is an undemocratic distraction which is likely to hit some groups much harder than others.”

Dennis Reed, Director of Silver Voices, the UK-wide membership organisation for the over 60s, said:

“These findings cast serious doubt on whether there is robust information from the pilots on the impact of voter ID on older voters.

“Up to 2 million pensioners do not possess photo ID and there appears to be no reliable estimates of how many would be turned away from polling stations if voter ID was to be introduced nationally.

“We also need comprehensive survey evidence on how many older voters would not attempt to vote at all, if voter ID was introduced.”

Sam Grant, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty, said:

“Voting is one of our most basic rights. By demanding that we all show ID in order to vote, the Government is putting in place serious barriers to democracy.

“For people who are already under-represented in the political system, this is particularly concerning. The fact the Government doesn’t have the evidence to understand what impact this will have shows it is disregarding these risks and trying to plough ahead with plans that threaten the basic foundations of our democratic system.

“If you look at the statistics these plans are being put in place to solve a fictional problem. They should be scrapped, and the Government should protect the right to vote for all of us.”


Notes to Editors

[1] Cat Smith MP noted:

  • Government Ministers have repeatedly referred to “clear evidence” that Voter ID has no impact on any particular demographic group. 
    • Most recently on 11 June 2020, Chloe Smith responded to a question from Cat Smith on Voter ID[1]: “The evidence shows there is no impact on any particular demographic group”. Later in questions, she said[2]: “the evidence of our pilots shows that there is no impact on any particular demographic group from this policy”
    • In April 2019 during a debate on Voter ID, Smith stated: “What is more—here is the really important point—the evidence showed that no particular demographic group was affected by the requirement to bring ID.”[3]
    • When asked for this evidence in a written question[4], the Minister referred to ‘evidence’ from the Electoral Commission’s review of the Government’s ID pilots. But in its post-pilot evaluation, the Electoral Commission said, “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns and answer questions about the impact of identification requirements on voters.” [5] The report concluded: “The relatively small size of the May 2018 pilot schemes, the level of turnout and the limited demographic variation across wards of the pilot schemes means that it is difficult to systematically identify examples of a negative impact for particular groups of people. The limitations of samplebased surveying also mean that we did not get enough responses from specific groups of people to be able to report experiences or views across those groups” [6].
  • FOIs from the Home Office, Passport Office and Department for Transport have revealed that no Government department hold data on possession of ID by ethnicity (Passport/Driver Licence).
  • Since this policy was first announced in December 2016, the Government has received multiple warnings from charities, civil society figures and campaign groups that mandatory voter ID – if rolled out nationally – could pull up the drawbridge for millions of voters.
  • In 2018, a coalition of academics and charities – including Operation Black Vote, Age UK, the National Union of Students, the Salvation Army and Stonewall – condemned the Government’s proposals, highlighting the negative impact it will have on disadvantaged and excluded groups[7]
  • More recently, anti-racist and BAME organisations warned the government that these plans could lock black and ethnic minority people out of democracy[8]
  • The independent Equality and Human Rights Commission also notified the Government that voter ID will have a disproportionate impact on voters with protected characteristics, particularly ethnic minority communities, older people, trans people and people with disabilities[9].
  • A survey by the Department for Transport found that 76% of the white population hold a driving licence compared with just 52% of black people[10].
  • Voter ID is a disproportionate response to tackle voter impersonation, which is an incredibly rare event
    • In 2017 there were 28 allegations of polling station fraud out of over 44 million votes cast, resulting in one conviction.
    • In 2018 there were just 8 allegations of polling station personation, which resulted in no convictions or cautions. [11] 
    • 2019, a year with of a high turnout general election, saw just one conviction for personation[12], out of over 59million votes cast. There were 54 allegations of impersonation out of a total of 585 cases of allegations of fraud for the year.
  • See the full report about the April 2019 pilots from the Electoral Reform Society here.













Read more press releases...

Campaigners call for parties to back ‘vital’ Senedd reforms

Electoral Reform Society Cymru throws weight behind official Committee on Senedd Reform findings: “Now is the time to act to level up Welsh democracy”. Statement from the Electoral Reform Society Cymru – Thursday 10th September...

Posted 10 Sep 2020