Free and fair franchise at risk from voter ID plans, says Electoral Reform Society

By agency reporter
April 28, 2018

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has published the first extensive analysis of the voter ID trials taking place in five areas next week.  “Voters Locked Out: The Dangers of Voter ID in England sets out the details of the trials next week – and the dangers the scheme poses to a free and fair ballot.

The briefing points to UK and international evidence on mandatory voter ID – while assessing how many voters may be adversely hit by a UK-wide roll-out. A report published by the Electoral Commission in December 2015 found that approximately 3.5 million electors (7.5 per cent of the electorate) do not have any photo ID. If restricted to passports and driving licenses, potentially 11 million electors (24 per cent of the electorate) would not have the right ID. Moreover, in the 2011 Census, 9.5 million people stated they did not hold a passport and in 2013/14 1.7 million lack even a bank account.

It follows concerns from the Equality and Human Rights Commission around the negative impacts of voter ID on disadvantaged groups.

The analysis:

  • Gives the essential information of the voter ID trials – the where, what and how
  • Looks at the dubious evidence base for the policy
  • Analyses the international evidence on voter ID – including the impact on disadvantaged groups in the US
  • Argues the pilot areas will provide insufficient data and information on which to assess the impact of a UK-wide rollout – all the trial locations are self-selecting urban areas, with most in the South East and below-average unemployment rates
  • Outlines the risk of excluding legitimate voters, particularly in light of the Windrush affair 

Evidence outlined by the ERS shows that bringing in mandatory ID makes little difference to perceptions of fraud: citizens of US states with strict ID laws don’t feel better about their elections than people in states with more relaxed laws.

Moreover, the pilot group does not include any university towns or areas where the unemployment rate is substantively above the national average. Only one area (Watford) is substantially less white than the national average (in contrast, Gosport is 96.4 per cent white).

A major coalition of civil society groups, academics and charities have joined the ERS in opposing the mandatory ID plans – including Age UK, Stonewall, Liberty, The Salvation Army, Migrants’ Rights Network, the British Youth Council and the Race Equality Foundation [full list at bottom].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:“It’s hard not to see this as a calculated effort by the government to make voting harder for some citizens. As such it’s vital we think about the risks these changes pose to a free and fair franchise in the UK. We need policy based on hard facts – not rumour and innuendo.

“With millions of people lacking the right photographic ID – and no government plans for a universal, free alternative – this can only mean another barrier for honest voters. The government know this, which makes this policy all the more concerning.

“The government like to compare going to vote to ‘picking up a parcel’ – where some ID is required. Yet mandatory photographic ID would prevent millions from ‘picking up their parcel’ – i.e. exercising their right to vote. And while you can forget your ID for a parcel and pick it up the next day, the same cannot be said for using your right to vote.

“These deeply flawed trials must not be a fait accompli for the government’s plan to roll-out an ill- thought policy. Mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s time for an evidence-based approach instead”

* Read The Dangers of Voter ID in England here

* Electoral Reform Society


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