The government’s own research shows millions of people may lack appropriate voter ID

Michela Palese, former Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 14th May 2021

This week’s Queen’s Speech confirmed that the government would be pushing ahead with the Electoral Integrity Bill.

As we’ve outlined before, the bill would require voters to present photo identification at the polling station in order to vote – a costly and undemocratic plan, which could potentially see millions of ordinary people locked out of the ballot box at election time, and which has been widely condemned by figures ranging from leading Conservative David Davis MP and former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, as well as almost all opposition parties.

The government appears intent on pursuing this unfair and discriminatory policy, but its own commissioned research, published this week, raises serious concerns about how voter ID will make it much harder for people to vote.

Who has photo ID?

The government’s commissioned report found that 91 percent of people had in-date, recognisable photo ID, meaning that almost one in 10 people would not be able to vote. If expired, yet still recognisable, ID were to be allowed, four percent of people would not be able to vote – this translates to roughly 2.1 million people who would risk not being able to vote at a general election.

If we look at specific demographics in the government-commissioned research, we find that certain groups are less likely to hold ID. For example, older voters (aged 85+) were less likely to have ID that was recognisable (91% compared to 95%-98% for those in younger age groups). Those with severely limiting disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID.

What about the ‘free’ Voter Authority Certificate?

The government reiterated this week its commitment that citizens could apply for a free electoral identity card if they do not hold appropriate photo ID. But having to apply for free ID is yet another barrier to exercising one’s democratic rights, particularly for those who might find it hard to complete forms or costly to go to get passport-quality photos taken.

When asked about whether they would apply for a free elector card, 56 percent of respondents to the government-commissioned survey said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to apply for this. Among respondents with no photo ID, 42 percent said they would be unlikely or very unlikely for this, leading the researchers to conclude that this ‘would suggest that close to half of those without photo ID would not seek to apply for the Voter Card, and therefore be at risk of ending up without photo ID.’

A damaging impact on democratic participation

The research commissioned by the government also asked respondents about their likelihood to vote and ease of voting if ID were to be introduced. It found that over a quarter (27%) of those without any form of photo ID and a fifth (19%) of those with not recognisable photo ID would be less likely to vote if they had to present photo ID. This compares to four percent of those holding recognisable photo ID.

Overall, five percent of respondents said that having to show ID would make voting at a polling station difficult, with three percent of these saying it would be very difficult. But almost four in 10 of those without any photo ID said they believed the requirement for photo ID would make voting more difficult, with a quarter (25%) of those with unrecognisable ID stating the same.

Voting in the UK is safe and secure, as the government itself recognises. That means requiring photo ID to vote risk undermining the principles of fair and equal participation, principles that have been at the heart of British democracy since the adoption of universal, equal suffrage in 1928.

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