Voter ID makes its unwelcome Scottish debut in Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Author:
Willie Sullivan, Senior Director, Campaigns and Scotland

Posted on the 4th October 2023

If you live in Rutherglen and Hamilton West and are registered to vote, tomorrow is the day you can go vote in the long-awaited by-election. That is if you have, and remember to take, photo ID from the government’s approved list with you.

The requirement to have photo ID was brought in by the Conservative Government in Westminster and tried for the first time in the English Local Elections last May. The Electoral Commission estimates that at least 14,000 people who turned out to vote were turned away and didn’t come back. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many people will have stayed at home because they didn’t have ID and had seen the adverts telling them they needed it.  Many will have turned up at the polling station without ID because many people don’t have photo ID or maybe they forgot it,  saw the notices and went home again.  Ten of thousands of people who wanted to vote were told they couldn’t.

A sledgehammer to crack a nut

It might seem that this is a necessary requirement to ensure our elections are safe and secure. What if people were turning up at polling stations and pretending to be other people so that they could vote more than once?  In 2019 out of the tens of millions of people that voted, there was one prosecution for ‘impersonation’. It is just not a problem. This is not a sledgehammer to crack a nut, it is a full-on industrial pile driver to crush a poppy seed.  A solution looking for a problem that has created a radiating tremor of much bigger problems in its execution.

This is the first time you have needed photo ID to vote in an election in Scotland. Many voters in Rutherglen don’t know they need this, or don’t have photo ID.  It will stop some people who want to vote and should be allowed to vote from voting. This is no small thing. In all elections, lots of people don’t make it to the polling station. They may be too busy or don’t think voting makes any difference, don’t like any of the candidates or forget an election is on.

But to want to vote, and be legitimately registered yet be turned away because you forgot your photo ID is a big blow for trust and legitimacy in the system. Who does it affect most?  The evidence from the Electoral Commission says young people, ethnic minorities, disabled people and poorer communities. It takes away power from those who already have the least. It is the opposite of democracy – a system that seeks to share power out equally.

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