Voter ID controversy stirs in the UK

30/07/20

A series of Freedom of Information requests has revealed that UK government departments do not know who will be hardest hit by mandatory voter ID plans, according to the voters' rights body Electoral Reform Society.

This despite ministers claiming that “the evidence shows there is no impact on any particular demographic group.”

Cat Smith MP made a series of FoI requests to the Home Office [1], Passport Office and Department for Transport, all of which showed that they do not hold data on possession of passport/driving licence ID by ethnicity.

What evidence we do have suggests that those who lack some forms of photo ID are disproportionately non-white, while those on lower incomes and older voters could also be adversely affected. Equality groups have previously warned of an electoral Windrush 2.0 scandal’ if voter ID is imposed.

The Electoral Reform Society has pointed to the the Government’s determination to import ‘US-style voter suppression’ policies while ignoring genuine threats to democracy, as outlined in the recent ISC Russia Report.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: 

“How ministers can claim that mandatory voter ID will not discriminate – when they have apparently failed to gather any evidence – is baffling and looks deeply misleading.

“The research we do have suggests that this policy will disproportionately hit people of colour, older voters and those on low-incomes.  Studies in the US show that in places without universal ID, such laws unfairly lock millions out of the ballot box, skewing the system and deepening political inequalities. We must not import US-style voter suppression to the UK.

“With no effort to assess the impact of these proposals, ministers are playing a very dangerous game indeed. There are urgent problems with democracy which need solving: a warped voting system and millions left off the electoral register. Instead, this show-your-papers policy is an undemocratic distraction which is likely to hit some groups much harder than others.”

Dennis Reed, Director of Silver Voices, the UK-wide membership organisation for the over 60s, said:

“These findings cast serious doubt on whether there is robust information from the pilots on the impact of voter ID on older voters.

“Up to 2 million pensioners do not possess photo ID and there appears to be no reliable estimates of how many would be turned away from polling stations if voter ID was to be introduced nationally.

“We also need comprehensive survey evidence on how many older voters would not attempt to vote at all, if voter ID was introduced.”

Sam Grant, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty, said:

“Voting is one of our most basic rights. By demanding that we all show ID in order to vote, the Government is putting in place serious barriers to democracy.

“For people who are already under-represented in the political system, this is particularly concerning. The fact the Government doesn’t have the evidence to understand what impact this will have shows it is disregarding these risks and trying to plough ahead with plans that threaten the basic foundations of our democratic system.

“If you look at the statistics these plans are being put in place to solve a fictional problem. They should be scrapped, and the Government should protect the right to vote for all of us.”

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