Despite the fact that last month’s Voter ID trials disenfranchised (at least) hundreds of people, the government seems to be set on making it national policy.
Why? Ostensibly, the government says it is about tackling fraud. But this rationale has been shown to be utter nonsense.
Requiring voters to show documents such as their passport or driving licence before receiving a polling card would prevent what is known as personation: a fraudster pretending to be someone else at the polling station.
Have you ever gone to vote and been told you could not because someone had already voted using your name? The answer is almost certainly not, because personation barely exists in the UK.
Figures from the Electoral Commission show there were just 28 allegations of impersonation in 2017 out of nearly 45 million votes in 2017 – or one case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Only one of these allegations resulted in a conviction. Across the five trial areas, there has not been a single allegation in the last decade.
So we have established then that there is no evidence of fraud to justify imposing ID.
But perhaps there is widespread public demand for the new requirements? If it that was the case, it would be difficult to overly criticise a government reacting to the will of citizens.
Fresh polling commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society, however, has revealed introducing ID at the polling station is rarely on people’s list of priorities.
To put that in the proper context, issues more frequently cited as important to those surveyed included:
- An accurate voting register (56%)
- Balanced media coverage (52%)
- Elections free from big donors (48%)
- Elections are well managed with information widely available (46%)
- Elections are monitored and observed for security (46%)
The Electoral Reform Society agrees that all five of these are important issues. Crucially, none of them disenfranchise huge numbers of voters as would be the case with Voter ID. In contrast, under 40% of people viewed imposing ID as important.
In many cases, there are obvious ways of going about tackling existing problems. For example, a single electoral register would help to ensure its accuracy and could even increase turnout at our elections by opening up the possibility of voters attending any polling station, not just the one allocated to them.
Instead, voters want to tackle our rigged party funding system, improve an out-of-date voting register and ensure fair election coverage.
The public know their priorities. And rather than adding an additional barrier to voting, the government should listen, and look at ways it can improve the process to encourage greater numbers to take part in politics – not put people off.