The Government has been warned there is no evidence to justify “heavy-handed” plans to introduce voter ID as controversial new laws return to the Commons.
The Elections Bill will return to be debated by MPs on Tuesday, but civil society and campaign groups will also deliver a petition with more than 292,000 signatures to Downing Street opposing plans for mandatory voter ID.
Under the most controversial element of the Bill, it will be a requirement for voters to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper to vote in a polling station.
The provisions will apply across the UK in general elections – although similar measures have been in place in Northern Ireland since 2003.
A free voter card will be available from councils for people without a suitable form of ID.
But campaigners claim MPs have not considered the implications of the proposal for both voters and councils and that the move could disenfranchise more than two million voters.
They say groups including first-time voters, older voters, disabled people and black, Asian and minority ethnic voters were likely to be most affected – with polling also showing voters in the north of England will be impacted more than those in the south.
But the Government said the Bill will strengthen the integrity of elections.
Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said:
Voters must be confident, not only that their vote is theirs and theirs alone, but that their voices are heard and their vote matters.
The Elections Bill keeps our elections free and fair and will ensure democracy across the UK continues to thrive.
However, Jack McAteer, a co-founder of grassroots voting rights group #HandsOffOurVote, said the proposals would make voting more difficult.
Many people in the UK simply don’t have photo ID and it’s not free. This is going to create obstacles for many already disenfranchised groups, including BAME voters, disabled people, homeless people, and the elderly.
While Dr Jess Garland, director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said:
We know more than two million voters lack recognisable ID – the Government’s own figures have confirmed this. This is the biggest change to voting in generations and it poses a huge risk to democratic equality.
There is no evidence to justify this heavy-handed plan which could disenfranchise voters on an industrial scale. While ministers have promised a ‘free’ ID, we are yet to see the details. There are huge risks asking stretched councils to both provide new IDs and become bouncers of the ballot box.
It’s vital that all MPs and peers listen to the concerns being raised, stand up for the right to vote and challenge this dangerous legislation head-on.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?