Ministers just vowed to plough ahead with a ‘dangerous’ change to elections

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 2nd October 2020

The ERS and groups representing elderly voters and BME communities are warning that mandatory voter ID risks pulling up the drawbridge to thousands of voters, after the government confirmed plans to impose the ‘show your papers’ policy.

In the government’s response to the Electoral Commission’s reports on last year’s elections – out this week – Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith confirmed she plans to push ahead with imposing mandatory voter ID, writing: “We are concentrating on the promises we made in our manifesto including to ensure electoral integrity by introducing voter ID and bringing forward changes to strengthen postal vote processes and to equalise constituencies amongst other changes.”

The report responds to a challenge from the Association of Electoral Administrators which argued that voter ID was unnecessarily ‘introducing more complexity’ to an ‘already creaking system’.

There was just one proven case of personation fraud, out of millions of votes cast in the UK last year, according to the Electoral Commission.

Today, we are urging the government to re-think the voter ID policy.

We know that the government’s voter-ID proposals will disproportionately hit older voters, people of colour, and those on low-incomes. Experience from the US shows that when there’s no universal ID scheme, these laws unfairly – and often deliberately – 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.

Voting is a right and one you shouldn’t have to opt into. Rather than pulling up the drawbridge to large groups of voters, ministers should deal with bringing in the nine million people who are missing from the electoral register, and the dangerous loopholes in our analogue-age election laws.

Given the huge potential for disenfranchisement, it is deeply worrying that ministers see imposing voter ID as a priority – rather than reforming Westminster’s warped voting system or unelected House of Lords. When it comes to Britain’s democratic crisis, this isn’t just fiddling while Rome burns – it’s pouring petrol on the flames. It’s vital that ministers think again before driving another wedge into our already-unequal politics.

Dennis Reed, Director of Silver Voices, which represents people over-60s, told the news outlet Byline: “We fear this is a ‘Trumpian’ manoeuvre to limit voting by those who are not natural Government supporters – i.e. the most deprived members of communities, including senior citizens in poverty.”

Josh Bradlow, policy manager at Stonewall, added: “LGBT people – particularly those who are working-class, older, disabled, and people of colour – are more likely than the general population to live in poverty or experience homelessness, which can create significant obstacles to obtaining photo ID. Many trans and non-binary people also may not have ID matching their gender.”

Anti-racism group Hope Not Hate described mandatory voter ID as “a cure that is worse than the sickness.” 

A spokesperson for Liberty added: “The Government has given us plenty of reasons to be wary of its digital projects. Recent months have seen backtracks over the planned contract tracing app and exams algorithm, and only last year the Home Office had to apologise to EU nationals and Windrush citizens in the space of a week for data breaches.”

BME groups have also accused the government of importing US-style voter suppression.

Last year’s voter ID pilots in just a handful of council areas saw over 700 people turned away and not return – effectively being denied a vote.

The government may have also misled Parliament over the policy. A series of Freedom of Information requests revealed that government departments do not know who will be hardest hit by mandatory voter ID plans, despite ministers repeatedly claiming that “the evidence shows there is no impact on any particular demographic group.”

This policy risks turning thousands of election workers into bouncers at the ballot box – the government needs to re-think the voter ID policy.

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