Poll: ‘Need’ for voter ID should be least of our worries, say voters

Posted on the 6th June 2018

Reforming how parties are funded a greater priority among public than imposing mandatory voter identification. 

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society
  • For more information or to arrange an interview/further comment, contact mediaoddice@electoral-reform.org.uk or call 020 3743 6064
  • A briefing produced by the Electoral Reform Society ahead of a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon can be accessed here.

The public say the ‘need; for voter ID – as the government trialled in five areas in May – should be the least of Britain’s concerns when it comes to democracy, according to polling by BMG Research. [1]

When presented with 12 options on problems with British democracy – based on Harvard University’s ‘Perceptions of Electoral Integrity’ survey – voters see mandatory ID as one of their least concerns, according to the poll for the Electoral Reform Society. Balanced media coverage, regulated campaign activities and a limit on big donors were among the options.

The research is published to coincide with Wednesday’s Westminster Hall debate on the government’s voter ID plans [2].

It comes as legal opinion from Blackstone Chambers, seen by the Electoral Reform Society, claims the ID trials held in May could have been illegal, with ministers acting beyond their lawful powers. 

The research shows the need for “polling station votes [to be] protected by additional identity checks” ranks the second lowest democratic priority for voters – with only “constituency boundaries are free from political influence” ranking lower among people’s priorities.

Among the issues which voter ID ranked below were “[ensuring] the voting register is accurate (no fraudulent entries)” – with 56% ranking it as important – balanced media coverage with 52%, ensuring elections are kept free from the influence of financial donors with 48%, and tightening postal vote security (44% ranking it important).

When asked what they felt was the single most important option, just 4% of respondents chose “polling stations [should be] protected by additional identity checks,” tying with “postal votes are secure from undue influence” and “all political parties have fair access to elections”. Again, voter ID was the second least important concern, beaten only by “[ensuring] constituency boundaries are free from political influence.”

Three options received more than 10% – “election campaigns are free from the influence of large financial donors” scoring highest at 17%, “media coverage of the election is balanced” with 13%, followed by “the voting register is accurate (no fraudulent entries)” with 16%.

Improving voting register accuracy was a key goal of Individual Electoral Registration, and would likely be improved by having a single national electoral register – leaving financial donors the largest undealt-with question about UK elections.

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

“Voters know where the real problems are in our democracy – not in the handful of voter fraud cases each year, but in a broken Westminster system.

“The government’s draconian ID scheme unfairly places all the burden on blameless voters – rather than the government – to ensure we have an effective and transparent political system.

“Instead, we need to be looking at the bigger issues – like the fact that one in five feel forced to vote ‘tactically’ at elections rather than for their first choice, that there is a spending arms race when it comes to our elections, and that our voter registration system needs hauling into the 21st century.

“The public do not view imposing voter ID as a priority – in fact, quite the opposite.

“The question has to be asked: why is the government pushing ahead with imposing voter ID, when the public do not view it as necessary? Given voters’ legitimate concerns over how our parties our funded, this move looks increasingly like a red herring – a distraction given the myriad problems with our political system.

“Given that there was just one prosecution last year for the type of voter fraud ID aims to prevent, there is not a shred of evidence to justify imposing this policy on the public.

“Now the government must rethink this draconian policy – and address the very pressing concerns the public have over out-of-control party spending, voter registration and fair election coverage.”

Ends

Notes to editors

[1] The poll question uses the framework of the Harvard ‘Perceptions of Electoral Integrity’ survey (Norris, P. 2017 – Strengthening Electoral Integrity, CUP), and adapted for a UK election day. See here: https://www.electoralintegrityproject.com/pei-us-2016/

BMG Research conducted a representative survey of 1,500 GB adults aged 18 and over, with the fieldwork conducted online between 1–4 May 2018.

Thinking about the conduct of elections in the UK, which of the following, if any, are important to you? Please tick all that apply.
[Multiple Response]

Option Response %
The voting register is accurate (no fraudulent entries) 56
Media coverage of the election is balanced 52
Election campaigns are free from the influence of large financial donors 48
Elections are well managed and information widely available 46
Elections are monitored and observed for security 46
Postal votes are secure from undue influence 44
All political parties have fair access to elections 42
Online campaigning activities are transparent and regulated 41
Polling stations votes are protected by additional identity checks 39
Constituency boundaries are free from polititcal influence 32
None of the above/Don’t know 21
Other (please specify) 1

…And which would you say is the most important to you?

Option Response %
None of the above/Don’t know 21
Election campaigns are free from the influence of large financial donors 17
The voting register is accurate (no fraudulent entries) 16
Media coverage of the election is balanced 13
Elections are well managed and information is widely available 6
Elections are monitored and observed for security 6
Online campaign activities are transparent and regulated 5
Postal votes are secure from undue influence 4
Polling station votes are protected by additional identity checks 4
All political parties have fair access to elections 4
Constituency boundaries are free from political influence 3
Other (please specify) 1

[2] The debate will be 4.30 pm-5.30 pm on Wednesday 6th June, on the voter ID pilot schemes. To be moved by Ellie Reeves, MP for Lewisham West and Penge https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/speakers-office/wadjourns/
The Electoral Reform Society’s briefing on the trials can be viewed here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Defending-the-Right-to-Vote-Voter-ID-Briefing.pdf

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/jun/06/uks-voter-id-trial-in-local-elections-could-be-illegal-barristers

[4] A major coalition of civil society groups, academics and charities have joined the ERS in opposing the mandatory ID plans. These are:
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.

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