Coalition of charities and civil society demands rethink on ‘dangerous’ voter ID trials

By agency reporter
March 8, 2018

An ‘unprecedented’ coalition of charities and academics have written to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution, calling on the government to urgently reconsider the decision to enforce voter ID at the local elections in May.

The group, led by the Electoral Reform Society, are calling for a rethink from across civil society – including Age UK, the National Union of Students, Operation Black Vote, the Salvation Army and Stonewall.

All are concerned that mandatory voter ID would damage turnout and undermine engagement among already disadvantaged and excluded groups – and worry the trials are a fait accompli for a national roll-out.

New figures from the Electoral Commission show there were just 28 allegations of impersonation last year our of nearly 45 million votes in 2017 – or one case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Only one of these allegations resulted in a conviction.

The coalition of groups argue voter ID reforms present a significant barrier to democratic engagement and could disadvantage young people, older people, disabled, transgender, BAME communities and the homeless. (

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said, “Electoral fraud is a serious issue – but mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Requiring voters to bring ID to the polling station risks excluding far more people than the handful attempting to undermine the result.

“As has been seen in the US, mandatory voter ID raises sizeable barriers to people wishing to legitimately express their democratic will – and the millions who do not hold any form of photo ID. Our democratic procedures are widely respected without the need for over-bearing policies like this.

“The government needs to rethink these plans urgently, to ensure that our democracy is not threatened by these heavy-handed changes.

“We have electoral officers and a highly-respected judicial system to prevent abuses – let’s strengthen them, rather than potentially disenfranchising millions.”

Simon Woolley, Director, Operation Black Vote, said, “This is clearly not a political issue, but rather a democratic concern. Right now our democracy needs to be the strongest it can be, therefore, we should be making the process of voting much easier, rather than introducing more layers of bureaucracy, that will inevitable cause distrust and turn people away.”

Dr. Toby James, University of East Anglia, said, “There is, a clear risk that introducing voter identification could adversely affect electoral participation.

“Voter ID in Britain therefore needs to be considered cautiously, especially given that there is no evidence that electoral fraud, which voter ID is designed to remedy, is widespread.”

Letter sent to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution:

Dear Minister,

RE: Voter ID pilots

We are writing to express our collective concerns for the Government plans to pilot identification in polling stations at the local government elections in May.

The Government’s commitment to building a safe and secure democracy is commendable. Electoral fraud is a serious crime and has the potential to undermine public confidence in elections, even if conducted on a small scale.

However, there is simply not enough evidence of voter fraud in the UK to justify these potentially damaging pilots, which threaten to disenfranchise members of some of the most vulnerable groups of society. In 2016 there were 44 allegations of impersonation – the type of fraud that voter ID is designed to tackle – out of nearly 64 million votes, reflecting just 1 case for every 1.5 million votes cast.

By comparison, the Electoral Commission has warned that 3.5 million people (7.5 per cent of the electorate) in Great Britain do not have access to any form of photo ID. 11 million electors (24 per cent of the electorate) do not have access to a passport or photographic driving licence.

As organisations who support and represent a diverse range of communities, we have serious concerns that these proposals present a significant barrier to democratic engagement and risk compromising a basic human right for some of the most marginalised groups in society. Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons.  Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless.

We are aware that the Local Authorities participating in the pilots will be providing alternative options for people without the photographic identification to vote in the local elections in May. However, we believe the measures do not go far enough to alleviate the potential risk of disenfranchisement and deterrent to voting. We are also concerned that the Local Authorities involved have failed to carry out adequate equality impact assessments of the pilots on protected individuals in their areas.  We would be grateful to learn what assurances you can give us in this regard.

We are also very concerned about the low levels of public awareness of the pilots and proposed reforms. We fear that many people will be unaware of changes to the voting process. To ensure that voters are not disenfranchised, it is vital that there is wide coverage of the new voting arrangements and that communications are accessible to everyone. Unfortunately there is little evidence to suggest that this has taken place in the various pilot areas even though the elections are now only two months away.

In December, the Cabinet Office published a five-year democratic engagement plan designed to increase participation in democracy. It is disappointing that these electoral pilots directly undermine this worthy objective.

We hope you listen to these concerns and urgently reconsider your decision to run the pilots as planned in the May local elections. We would be very happy to meet with you to discuss these issues in more detail and how our concerns may be mitigated.

A full list of over 40 signatories is available on the Electoral Reform Society website. 

* Electoral Reform Society


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