On the anniversary of the equal franchise, new government plans will undermine the right to vote

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 2nd July 2021

The 2nd July is the anniversary of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act. The act granted equal voting rights to women and men.  As a result, for the first time, anyone over the age of 21 could vote.

But today in 2021 government plans could turn back some of that positive work with plans for mandatory voter ID set to undermine the right to vote across the UK.

The plans, which are set to be included in the government’s upcoming Elections Bill, would require voters at polling stations to produce photo ID before being able to vote and could see millions turned away for lacking the required identification.

A new briefing by the Electoral Reform Society highlights the government’s own figures that suggest roughly 2.1 million people could be unable to vote in a general election due to not having recognisable photo ID. Over four in ten (42%) of those surveyed without ID would be unlikely or very unlikely to apply for a free elector card to allow them to cast a ballot.

New figures released by the Electoral Commission just last week show the potential for these plans to discriminate against already marginalised groups. The Commission found more disadvantaged groups are more likely to not have ID, including the unemployed (11%), those renting from a local authority (13%) or housing association (12%), as well as disabled people (8%).

With so many people lacking ID the measures, which the government claim are necessary to improve the integrity of elections, could instead have the opposite effect and undermine our elections and lead to millions being shut out from voting.

The fact is confidence in our elections are high. Despite government talking up the risk of voter fraud, the Electoral Commission figures show that public confidence in the running of elections is at its highest level since data collection began in 2012.

The watchdog’s latest findings show that alleged voter fraud is far down voters’ list of worries, with just 20% of people believing it to be a problem in the UK.

These figures discredit government arguments that voters need this mandatory ID imposed to boost confidence in democracy and the plans are little more than an expensive distraction that could undermine the right to vote for millions.

Trust in our democratic system is vital – which is why ministerial scaremongering about fraud is especially dangerous. With public confidence and satisfaction with our elections at an all-time high, the government is simply stoking up fears with these divisive plans.

It’s no surprise then that opposition to the proposals continues to grow. Last month we launched a landmark joint statement with leading UK civil rights groups to challenge plans to block those without ID from voting.

Groups including Stonewall, Liberty, Operation Black Vote, NUS, Silver Voices and more say the government’s proposals for mandatory voter ID are a ‘dangerous distraction’ that will ‘bring up the drawbridge to millions of ordinary voters.

With the facts talking apart the government’s case for this unnecessary policy, Ministers must now think again on these dangerous proposals and focus on combating the real threats to our democracy – rather than restricting the right to vote.

See our new briefing on Mandatory Voter ID

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