The government’s case for excluding voters who lack ID is getting weaker by the day.
Last week the Electoral Commission released its latest round of statistics on voter fraud for 2018.
The numbers were revealing. Across all elections in 2018 there were just 266 allegations that were investigated by the police. Of that more than half (140) were campaigning offences. Just one in five (57) related to complaints made about the voting process.
‘Personation fraud’ at the polling station – the crime of pretending to be someone else at the ballot box – accounted for just eight of the 266 allegations made last year. Yes, Ministers’ plans to tackle fraud would only affect 3% of all fraud allegations. Something isn’t right here.
As this month, there has been just one conviction for voter fraud since January 2018. That was after a candidate was found to have forged signatures on his nomination form so he could stand in an election. There have been two police cautions issued for other electoral fraud offences.
Most importantly though the Commission found ‘no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud’ relating to the 2018 electoral cycle.
But listening to the government, you might think there was a widespread problem. In 2018, for the first time, compulsory voter ID was trialled at some polling stations in England. In a number of areas including Swindon, Watford and Woking voters were required to bring one or two forms of ID with them in order to cast their vote.
The trials in 2018 resulted in nearly 350 people being turned away from the voting booth on polling day – unable to cast their vote because they didn’t have the right documents.
Now the government is planning to continue these trials during this year’s local elections potentially preventing many more people from exercising their democratic rights.
But these new figures show that the continued obsession with mandatory voter ID remains a solution looking for a problem. The already-flimsy case for making it harder to vote is getting weaker by the day. This evidence-free policy looks even more dangerous when you consider that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) do not have access to photo ID. Indeed, if voter identification requirements were restricted to passports or driving licenses, around 11 million citizens (24% of the electorate) could potentially be disenfranchised.
As the Electoral Commission make clear, there is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud in the UK. Rather than using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the government should deal with the real democratic problems we face – like Britain’s ‘wild west’ in campaign funding rules.
Despite most electoral offences being committed by parties rather than voters, it is innocent voters who lose out when the government locks ordinary people out of democracy – and millions risk being excluded from our politics because of this expensive and mistaken ‘show your papers’ policy.
The proposed changes to voter ID laws that are being trialled by the government are not just unnecessary but ill thought-out. Ministers should scrap this scheme before wasting any more time on it. Voters may be a convenient scapegoat for democracy’s troubles, but it’s the government who should be getting their house in order.
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