Pointless voter ID initiative from the Tories is another blow to democracy

Polling station sign for elections, which will now need some for of voter ID to participate
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New voter ID legislation from the Tories is proving to be as pointless as we all thought it would be. From 4 May, the next round of elections in the UK, voters will have to show photo ID in order to vote. This includes local elections, police commissioner elections, by-elections, and recall petitions. From October 2023, voters will also have to show photo ID at general elections.

However, just this week, it emerged that there hasn’t been a single proven case of in-person voter impersonation. As campaigners suspected, the government’s reform of the voting process is proving to be a “waste of time and resources.” On top of that, statistics from February 2023 showed that of people applying for a free voter ID document, less than 6% were under 25. This is in spite of under-25s being one of the groups most likely to lack the necessary ID.

The Electoral Reform Society has called the whole debacle an “expensive distraction”. Indeed, this mess is far from the first time in recent memory that our democracy has been chipped away at. In 2020, we reported that:

The last decade has seen Britain’s electoral landscape move from the cash for honours scandal, various expenses scandals, to the recent flurry of elections and referendums that have come under scrutiny with accusations of electoral fraud and dodgy campaign finances.

It’s little wonder that public confidence in politicians and the election process is so low.

What’s wrong with voter ID?

The Electoral Commission, which the Tories have threatened to dismantle, explained the problems. They wrote that “some groups are more likely to experience barriers with this change”, and listed these groups of people as:

  • Disabled people
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities
  • Older people
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People who are registered to vote anonymously
  • Trans and non-binary people

When news of the plans first emerged, voter suppression was a fear for many. Liberal Democrat levelling up spokesperson Helen Morgan said:

Read on...

Every council will have thousands of these applications to process before May, with no guarantee they can process them in time – taking critical council resources during a cost of living crisis.

The Conservative government have taken away people’s unobstructed right to vote. These delays are nothing short of voter suppression.

Age UK objected to the bill at the report stage, arguing:

Age UK has significant concerns about the impact of the introduction of photo ID for in person voting.

Older people are more likely to face hurdles when voting, including barriers to accessing transport and limited mobility which make getting to a polling station a lot harder. The proposed addition of compulsory photo ID, will further complicate in person voting.

The Runnymede Trust also expressed concern at who exactly the changes will shut out from voting:

Possession of a form of photo ID is not even across the population. The government’s own figures show that 24% of white people in England do not possess a full driving licence, compared to 39% Asian and 47% of Black people. According to the 2011 census, only 66% of those of Gypsy or Irish Traveller background hold a passport.

Stonewall also identified how queer people are less likely to have photo ID:

LGBTQ+ people are three times more likely than the general population not to possess any photo ID that could be used to vote.

This disparity is driven by the figures for trans and non-binary people. Nearly a quarter of trans respondents (24%) and nearly one in five non-binary respondents (19%) said they do not own usable photo ID, and could potentially be disenfranchised by the Elections Bill. This compares to 3% of non-trans respondents.

These changes have forced various groups into raising awareness around the types of photo ID needed in order to vote. The National Union of Students, British Youth Council, and Generation Rent have been campaigning to encourage young people to register to vote and obtain photo ID. In fact, the Good Law Project have called the potential blocking of young voters “generational gerrymandering”, adding:

The vast majority of voter IDs approved by the Government are available to older people, whilst very few are targeted at people under 60.

For example, an Older Person’s Bus Pass or 60+ Oyster Card will be acceptable, but an 18+ Oyster Card will not count. Moreover, 16-25 Railcards were approved during a voter ID pilot that took place in Woking in 2018, but they have now been inexplicably excluded by the Government.

Widespread objections

It’s outrageous that the government are trying to tackle a problem that doesn’t even exist. It’s difficult to imagine that new voter ID laws aren’t intended to suppress the votes of otherwise disenfranchised and vulnerable people. Policy officer David Arnold of UNISON, the public service union, said:

UNISON is saying that this is a blatant piece of voter suppression that will prevent tens of thousands of citizens from exercising their democratic right to vote.

And, finally, the Electoral Reform Society argued:

Unlike in mainland Europe where everyone has a mandatory national ID card, in the UK and USA the richer you are the more likely you have ID. Many citizens who can’t afford to go on foreign holidays don’t have passports, and those that can’t drive don’t have driving licences.

Everyone the Electoral Commission lists as being at risk of not having photo ID are all the more likely to be poor people. It’s not an accident that young people, queer people, disabled people, and people of colour are the ones at risk of voter suppression. Just like it’s not an accident that the Tories are trying to suppress the democratic rights of the people most affected by their draconian policies.

Featured image by Unsplash/Steve Houghton-Burnett

Get involved

  • See a full list of accepted forms of photo ID here
  • Find out how to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate here – the certificate is for people who don’t have acceptable photo ID, no longer look like the photo on their ID, or have a name on their photo ID that is different to the electoral register
  • Support the work of the Electoral Reform Society here

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