In a comment piece for The Times this week, Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution, made some bold claims about the government’s voter ID trials, which took place in five areas last month.
She said the trials were a ‘landmark moment for the government’s mission to strengthen the integrity of the electoral system’ – with ‘just’ 340 people denied their democratic right to vote (nearly 700 in total were turned away, but around half came back).
She notes: “This represents about 0.14 per cent of all votes cast.”
It’s funny that the government should point out this low number – which might equate to tens of thousands of votes if replicated nationwide. Because for a long time, they’ve been talking up the scale of alleged voter fraud.
As reported last month:
“The Cabinet Office said the [ID] trial for English voters was deemed necessary “after reports of alleged electoral fraud through voter impersonation more than doubled between 2014 and 2016”, citing Electoral Commission data.
That Electoral Commission data actually showed a rise from 21 alleged cases in 2014 to 44 in 2016. And then the number of allegations actually fell by more than a third last year, to just 28 – out of 45 million votes cast. (The government were criticised by the official watchdog, the UK Statistics Authority, for misleading voters on this front).
So the government is insisting on rolling out a major change to our elections on the basis of 28 allegations – and just one conviction last year.
In practice, that means all of us will be forced to show our papers, on the basis of one person.
For the government, those 28 allegations across the whole of the UK last year means there’s a “significant” problem that “takes away [people’s] right to vote as they want.”
The key point here is ‘alleged’: we know that 340 people were denied their right to vote last month. But just one of the 27 unverified allegations had the evidence for prosecution by the police and courts.
So 28 allegations is a ‘significant’ problem – yet 340 people losing their ability to vote is a ‘success’. Ms Smith has a strange definition of success. Something odd is going on here.
Let’s not forget that this figure doesn’t include people who were put off turning up to vote at all because of the new requirements.
Using turnout as a measure of ‘success’ – when the government has bankrolled these pilots, enabling the councils to run huge awareness campaigns with substantial advertising – is also deeply misleading.
The Minister argues that it is a matter of principle. Yet the evidence is that this will have a real impact on already ‘left behind’ groups.
She seems oblivious to the fact there would be thousands of victims of voter ID – denied their right to vote – should it be rolled-out nationally.
No one should celebrate policies that undermine the right to vote – not least our Constitution Minister.