Tory voter ID plans are unnecessary, expensive and a disaster for democracy

Nick Smith
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

The warning signs that the Conservatives’ voter ID plan will be a disaster for democracy are all there. New laws introduced by the government mean that everyone will be required to produce photo ID at the polling station before being allowed to vote in any election, starting with this May’s local elections in England. The main objection to this is plain: a large number of people do not have a passport or a driving licence. We know that those most likely to not have existing photo ID are those on low incomes, the young, the elderly and ethnic minorities. The new rules would mean that these voters would be at best actively discouraged from voting, at worst locked out entirely.

The Tories’ answer to this is a scheme to provide government-issued voter ID for anyone who applies. However, it was reported in The Guardian earlier this week that just 10,000 people have applied since the scheme opened. That is 0.5% of the total number of people who might need the document. The Guardian reports that, at this rate, it would take eight years to issue the new ID to all those who need it.

It may be that the government is currently not doing enough to let people know about the changes and will ramp up communication as elections approach. In any case, it is disturbing to think that the first some voters will hear about this is when they are being turned away at the polling booth. In local elections, particularly, this could be incredibly significant. Often seats are won or lost by dozens of votes. Some margins are in the single figures.

There has been an ever-growing rumble of discontent from local councils across England that they have not had enough time to prepare for such a big change to the voting process. The Electoral Commission has written to ministers arguing that, due to “insufficient” preparation time, it is no longer possible for the voter ID requirement to be delivered in a way that is “fully secure, accessible and workable” ahead of the elections in May this year.

There seems to be very little support for these changes outside of the Tory Party. So, what is this shambolic plan all about? The government – wielding its sledgehammer over the tiniest walnut imaginable – says it is to prevent voter fraud and improve election integrity, and yet never in history has a British election been affected by mass fraud. Individual fraud is hardly an issue. Statistically, a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than have their vote used by someone else. This is the government wasting millions on a solution without a problem.

It might seem like this is less about stopping lots of people from voting twice and more about discouraging some people from voting once – an attempt at voter suppression straight out of the US Republican Party playbook.

Sowing seeds of doubt about our robust and secure electoral process, making it more difficult to vote and discouraging people from taking part is a disaster for democracy. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Not a single person should be prevented from voting as a result of not getting this right.

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