Voter ID plans risk voters’ rights

The Government has announced it intends to require voters to present photo ID at polling stations. I have written to my MP to ask him to oppose this illiberal and misconceived measure.

Dear Paul Blomfield,

I am against requiring voters to present photo ID at the polling station. Personation is not a problem that needs solving; if it were a problem, there’s no evidence that voter ID would solve it; and voter ID laws disenfranchise marginalised people disproportionately.

This weekend the Telegraph reported that the Government is considering requiring voters to show photo ID. Please oppose this in Parliament by:

  • Voting against the Queen’s speech should it propose introducing voter ID;
  • Voting against all Bills containing this measure;
  • Writing to the minister responsible for election integrity to express my concerns;
  • Requesting of the minister responsible:
    • their evidence that requiring photo ID would reduce personation;
    • the level of disenfranchisement they (a) expect and (b) are prepared to tolerate as a result of requiring voter ID, and;
    • their strategy to mitigate this disenfranchisement.

My objections are as follows:

Personation is not a problem that needs solving. There was one proven case of in-person voter fraud at the last general election, and two in the one before. Stealing someone else’s ballot is a slow, clunky way to rig an election, which is why it happens rarely.

There is no evidence that requiring photo ID at the polling station would reduce personation. No conclusions of statistical significance can be drawn from the handful of cases known to have occurred.

Requiring photo ID disenfranchises legitimate voters. This happened to 819 people in the voter ID trials at the last election. Corroborating evidence from Northern Ireland and the United States of America is also available. There are a reported 3.5M people in the UK without any form of photo ID and 11M have neither a passport nor a drivers licence.

The disenfranchisement would affect marginalised communities disproportionately. Many people cannot afford a passport or to learn to drive. Others would struggle to navigate the process of applying for a suitable form of ID. (A cynic might suggest Conservative-voting demographics seem less likely to be affected adversely.)

There is a risk that the Government would propose some kind of universal ID card to address lack of access, which would be a grave threat to civil liberties and would likely be rejected by the public as a result, leaving the problem of disenfranchisement unresolved. Should a universally available ID card be provided, disenfranchisement would still occur since some eligible people would not apply, more would not receive their ID in time and more still would simply forget to take their ID to their polling station.

The current rate of personation does not put electoral integrity at risk however disenfranchisement through voter ID requirements might. In last year’s trials 1.7% of people who tried to vote were turned away because they lacked suitable ID. There were 46 constituencies at the last general election where the winning margin was less than 1.7% and therefore voter ID could have swung the result.

The government should be doing all it can to encourage lawful voting and ensure a high turnout, not putting extra hurdles in the way. Raising barriers to democratic participation could just put people off voting, particularly those who are already less likely to participate. (A cynic might suggest that a low turnout favours the Conservative party…)