Voter ID risks ‘electoral gridlock’ over potential surge in legal challenges to results

Posted on the 15th October 2019

  • For immediate release, Tuesday 15th October
  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society. Contact 07717211630 / [email protected]

Elections in the UK could grind to a halt if the government’s plans for voter ID go ahead, the Electoral Reform Society has warned.

Dr Jess Garland told Radio 4’s World at One that close results would be likely to be challenged if mandatory voter ID were rolled out nationally, due to voters being turned away for lacking ID.

The fact that the ‘free’ ID cards will be distributed separately by hundreds of councils has also raised new fears of a ‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to the 3.5m who lack photo ID being able to get it.

Figures from the May local council trials show uptake of the different versions of local authority ID was almost non-existent in some areas [1]. Some areas demanded people turned up to the council offices  – during open hours – to fill in forms signed by a person of ‘repute’ in the community.

Many people will not be able to go to the council offices during office hours due to work or family commitments. The difficulties in attaining ID are one of several reasons electoral legal challenges are likely.

Election decisions and practices are open to challenge under the Human Rights Act, while there may be Equality Act implications to mandatory ID given the huge demographic variations in access to photo ID.

On Monday, the ERS warned of a ‘Windrush Mark 2’ if the plans went ahead, with certain BAME groups far less likely to hold photo ID than others [2].

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

“With eleven seats won by fewer than 100 votes in the 2017 General Election, mandatory voter ID could turn out to be a bonanza for lawyers, and a nightmare for over-stretched returning officers. We would likely see a surge in electoral challenges, with people angry at being turned away or having their ID rejected.

“Putting councils in charge of the ‘free’ ID schemes could trigger a postcode lottery when it comes to the franchise. Putting local areas in charge of ID in the US has seen a surge in partisan gerrymandering that makes a mockery of universal suffrage.

“Mandatory ID – free or otherwise – is simply adding another bureaucratic barrier to participation, which will be the difference between many people voting and not. The government knows this, which makes the ‘show your papers’ policy even more concerning.

“This policy has only been tested at a local government level – and that saw 700 denied a vote in just 10 areas in May. This is a huge gamble with our democracy. Ministers must stop the scaremongering and focus on the actual threats to democracy instead: the millions missing from the electoral roll, out-of-date campaign rules and a broken, discredited voting system at Westminster.”

Up to 9.4 million people are missing from the electoral roll [3], according to the Electoral Commission.

The ERS have previously warned of returning officers becoming ‘bouncers’ through forcing them to make potentially election-swinging decisions over the validity of people’s ID.

ENDS

See the ERS’ new briefing on election loopholes – the real threats to free and fair elections in the UK: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/report-campaign-loopholes-put-free-and-fair-elections-under-threat/

Notes to Editors

[1] https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/our-views-and-research/our-research/voter-identification-pilots/may-2019-voter-identification-pilot-schemes/pilot-areas-numbers

Number of ‘free’ council IDs given out:

  • Braintree – 1 ID certificate issued locally
  • Broxtowe – 2 ID certs issued locally
  • Craven – 0
  • Derby – 0
  • Mid Sussex – N/A
  • North Kesteven – 0
  • NW Leicestershire – no info
  • Pendle – 70 local elector identity cards
  • Watford – N/A
  • Woking – 29 local elector identity cards

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/voter-id-queens-speech-announcement-risks-shutting-out-millions-of-voters-in-windrush-mark-two/
[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/millions-missing-from-the-electoral-register-in-event-of-snap-election/

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