Why will the government’s voter ID scheme cost us up to £180,000,000 a decade?

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 22nd February 2023

Making it harder for people to vote is an expensive business. The government’s impact assessment of the Elections Act suggested the new scheme demanding certain forms of ID at polling stations could cost up to £180,000,000 a decade. Here’s what that money would be spent on.

What they are spending your money on

Over a decade we can expect two general elections plus many local elections – 32,000,000 people voted in the last general election across over 35,000 polling stations. Running an election is a big operation. These numbers are the maximum the government think they will have to spend on demanding ID, in theory, the government could come in under budget.

Equipment costs: £3 million

We’ve already seen the first £1.3 million spent in this area, with councils having to buy 40,000 mirrors and privacy curtains so those with religious headgear can be matched to their IDs in private.

Poll card costs: £80 million

With so many extra rules to cover, poll cards have to be redesigned to A4 size. Postal workers can’t just be given a box of A4 sheets of paper, so the new poll cards will have to be folded and placed in envelopes. The new poll cards will list the acceptable forms of ID.

Staff costs: £30 million

Properly checking over 30,000,000 ID cards in a general election will take a lot of time. If it only took a second longer to glance at a photo, 30,000,000 seconds equates to nearly 50 weeks of extra labour. Local councils will need to hire extra staff to deal with this.

Training costs: £10 million

Correctly matching people to their photos is quite a difficult task. Border Force staff are specially trained and do this job and do it every year, but poll workers will have to get it right on the day. Numerous studies have shown that people will be wrong 10 to 30 percent of the time when asked to determine whether two photos of similar-looking strangers are the same person. With no right to an appeal, we can only hope poll workers will err on the side of caution.

Voter Authority Certificate costs: £25 million

The Government’s own voter ID research found that four percent of people would not be able to vote due to not having the right ID – this translates to roughly 2.1 million people who would risk not being able to vote at a general election. To combat this, they have launched the free Voter Authority Certificate, but due to the rushed rollout in time for May’s local elections, barely 20,000 people have applied for the certificate so far. While there is no cost for the card, you will need a passport-grade photo.

Communications costs: £30 million

The government have already spent £5.6 million pounds on a voter information campaign to tell people about the new rules. Local councils will also have to run campaigns in their areas to inform people of the new rules. Even this expenditure might not be enough. Polling for the Byline Times found that 60% of voters do not know they will be unable to vote in England’s May 4 elections if they don’t have one of the government’s ‘valid’ forms of photo ID.

Electoral Commission costs: £10 million

The Electoral Commission does not run polling stations, count votes or announce results. But it does ensure elections are run well and that voters have the information they need, provides guidance to Returning Officers and advises political parties and candidates. On the day of the vote, they visit polling stations to observe the running of the election and produce a report on the administration of the election after the vote. With so many new processes they will certainly have extra work to do.

Electoral rules need to be proportionate

Elections are generally very well run in the UK – there are extremely low levels of electoral fraud and people have high confidence in voting. In 2019, there were only 33 allegations of impersonation at the polling station, out of over 58 million votes cast in the general and local elections that year. Adding a major barrier to democratic engagement off the back of so few proven cases would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

There are currently more Tory MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct than there have been prosecutions for voter fraud.

When fraud does happen it’s easy to spot – at the 1983 General Election, 949 people arrived at polling stations in Northern Ireland only to be told a vote has already been cast in their name and police made 149 arrests for personation, resulting in 104 prosecutions. Faced with these high levels of documented in-person electoral fraud, Northern Ireland introduced mandatory ID in 1985 and a free Electoral ID Card in 2002.

Rather than try and find evidence of a problem, the government skipped straight to rolling out their voter ID scheme. This whole scheme needs to go back to the drawing board, and from the drawing board to the bin.

Add your name: Say no to voter ID

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