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- Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release 14h October 2019
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Plans unveiled in today’s Queen’s Speech to impose mandatory voter ID have raised fears of a ‘Windrush scandal for democacy’ by the UK’s leading democracy group.
The Electoral Reform Society warn the policy, announced today as part of a package of legislative measures around voting and elections, will make it harder to vote for millions of ordinary people to vote.
A 2016 Electoral Commission report pointed out that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, and 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence  – the kind of ID expected to be required under new legislation.
The latest government figures (2017) indicate a huge demographic divide in who has a (full) driving license in England – with black and mixed communities far less likely to possess one: “White people [are] most likely to hold a driving licence out of all ethnic groups (at 76%), followed by Asian people (62%), people from the Other ethnic group (61%), people with Mixed ethnicity (59%), and Black people (52%)” 
While ministers have promised a free form of identification from local councils on request, the ERS point out this represents another barrier to voting that will put many off – with large variations likely in terms of how easy the cards are to acquire (some forms of free ID in the May trials were only available to apply for in person in a council office – meaning zero people secured one).
Compulsory voter ID trials, which took place in local elections in ten councils saw more than 700 people denied a vote for not having ID in pilots according to official figures . The ERS warn that we could see voters excluded on an industrial scale if mandatory photo ID were rolled out nationally.
The ERS lead a major coalition of charities and campaigners including Age UK, the Runnymede Trust, Stonewall and Liberty calling for ministers to reject mandatory voter ID . Operation Black Vote have also sounded the alarm.
Responding to today’s announcement Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“The Windrush scandal showed what can happen when millions of people who lack ID are shut out by government. BAME groups – as well as many young and elderly voters – are likely to be hard hit by this ‘show your papers’ policy.
“These plans risk excluding huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME voters – from our democratic processes and risk undermining free and fair elections.
“There remains no evidence of widespread impersonation at the ballot box yet the government continues to cynically pursue this ‘show your papers’ policy knowing full well the potential impact across the country.
“These plans are set to leave tens of thousands of legitimate voters voiceless and hit some groups much harder than others. Ministers should focus on combating the real threats to our democracy, rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”
Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust, has previously commented:
“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.”
Read the ERS’ briefing on the 2019 voter ID trials in the local elections https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/the-2019-voter-id-pilots/
The ERS’ 2018 report on voter ID ‘A Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut’ began the opposition to the government’s ‘show your papers’ policy https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/2018-Voter-ID-Trials.pdf
Notes to Editors
Pasports: The Electoral Commission’s 2015 report on voter ID noted: “Some groups will be less likely than the general population to hold certain forms of photo ID. Older people, for example, are less likely to hold passports, as well as people living in certain parts of Great Britain, notably Wales, where 80% of the population hold a passport, compared with 94% in London.
“Among ethnic groups, data from the 2011 Census suggest that the average across all ethnicities of holding an eligible passport is 85%. People from the following ethnic groups are least likely to hold an eligible passport: “‘White: Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ (66% hold an eligible passport)
 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 here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/30/compulsory-voter-id-uk-government-urged-halt-plans-vulnerable-disadvantaged-charities-warn