MPs have been warning of the threat of mandatory voter ID this week, after the government unveiled plans to make it harder for everyone to vote.
On Monday, the government published its Elections Bill – which represents the biggest change to Britain’s franchise in a generation.
Under the proposals, the roughly two million people who lack photo ID in the UK will be effectively locked out of democracy.
While ministers have suggested a free option will be available, it looks likely people will have to print out, fill in and post forms to get it – or travel to council offices in person. All this is a major barrier to participation.
Funnily enough, most people don’t live next to council HQ – meaning there’ll be financial and time costs when it comes to getting hold of this ID. For those in rural areas, the barriers could be substantial.
And when the government is passing legislation at the same time to cut the notice period for holding a General Election down to just three weeks, this is likely to leave councils with little time to approve and administer thousands of ID cards.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford (pictured) raised this at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, noting the Elections Bill ‘is a solution in desperate search of a problem that simply does not exist’.
He added: “What the Bill will do is to impose, for the first time, Trumpian voter ID laws in the UK. The Electoral Reform Society says it could lead to voter: “disenfranchisement on an industrial scale”,
Mr Blackford accused ministers of trying to ‘rob people of their democratic right to vote’.
The policy will certainly do the opposite of what’s needed right now – a proper plan to bring in the millions of people missing from the electoral roll, and real reform of Westminster’s crooked voting system that means huge swathes of the country are denied fair representation in Parliament. And we need robust action to tackle the threat of ‘dark money’ in politics – where big donors can hide their cash behind shell companies and anonymous trusts.
In Cabinet Office questions on Thursday, MPs strongly challenged ministers on the proposals. Rachel Hopkins MP said the need to deal with low levels of voter registration is more important than imposing ID. Minister Chloe Smith responded by saying: “Turnout is incredibly important…this policy will not affect it.”
However, there’s no evidence to back this claim up. The Electoral Commission concluded from the 2018 and 2019 pilots that there was insufficient evidence to say turnout would be the same if ID was imposed for a General Election. Those local voter ID pilots also saw huge public information campaigns alerting people to the need to bring ID. Who knows if we’d see the same level of spending for a General Election?
Working with MPs and across civil society, the ERS will continue to pile on the pressure over this deeply damaging bill, and fight for fairer elections for all.
On Tuesday 13th July there is a Westminster Hall debate on voter ID, at 4:50pm.
Watch it, spread the word, and let’s get the government e-petition to scrap mandatory ID to 100,000 signatures, before the debate. It’s so close!
Join the movement to defend the right to vote today