Government’s voter ID plans condemned as ‘rearranging the deckchairs’

By agency reporter
September 12, 2018

The government’s plans to impose voter ID is an “expensive distraction” from the serious threats facing our democracy, according to a new report. A Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut: The 2018 Voter ID Trials is the first civil society assessment of the pilots.

The Electoral Reform Society {ERS} and civil society groups – including Age UK, Stonewall and the Salvation Army – are highlighting major concerns about the potential consequences of forcing voters to show ID documents at the polling station.

The ERS says the push to impose the policy is akin to ‘rearranging the deckchairs while democracy veers towards an iceberg’ – amid fears of foreign interference, the spread of disinformation, and unreformed campaign funding rules.

The ERS has now published in-depth analysis on the policy and five pilots of the scheme, which took place during May’s elections.

The report shows:

  • Voter ID is an expensive distraction from serious threats to our democracy. Imposing mandatory voter ID could cost up to £20 million per general election. Yet Britain’s outdated campaign regulations go totally unreformed – opening the door to foreign interference, disinformation and campaign funding scandals 
  • The disenfranchising effect of voter ID could change the result of future elections. Thirteen seats were won in the 2017 General Election by a majority less than the number of people disenfranchised in just Bromley during the May pilots.
  • Turnout in the trials was likely to have been artificially stimulated by awareness campaigns. Freedom of Information results obtained by the ERS show that Watford spent around £34,400 of Cabinet Office funding just on informing residents about the occurrence of the pilot. In Bromley, the Cabinet Office provided £200,000 of funding, which included additional staffing costs. Awareness campaigns on the same scale would be unlikely in a national roll-out. Yet despite the sums spent,  an average of around a quarter of residents did not know ID was needed in four trial areas. More than four in 10 were unaware of the ID requirements in Watford.
  • Voter ID is a disproportionate response to the problem of in-person fraud – it is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In 2017, here were just 28 allegations of personation – the type of fraud ID is meant to fix –  which resulted in a single conviction from a total of 45 million votes

The report also highlights recent research showing nearly all polling station staff had no suspicion of fraud taking place. Ninety-nine percent of staff in the polling stations (who issue ballot papers and ensure the ballots are secure) did not suspect that fraud had taken place in their polling station.

Jess Garland, Director of Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “When it comes to voter ID, the government is rearranging the deckchairs while our democracy heads towards an iceberg.

“Revelations about serious wrongdoing during the Brexit campaign have shaken faith in our elections, with online campaigning starting to look like a ‘wild west’ beyond the reach of our regulations. And yet the government continues to pursue a policy that asks legitimate voters to identify themselves – instead of those who are seeking to manipulate our elections through disinformation and unregulated finance.

“If rolled out nationally this scheme could cost the taxpayer up to £20 million per General Election and, based on this year’s trials, could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters. These are significant numbers – and the disenfranchising effect of voter ID could easily swing the result of future elections.

“The government should abandon these costly, undemocratic plans and focus on boosting democratic engagement instead.”

The report states: “Millions of people lack the strictest forms of required documentation – documentation that is costly to acquire. It’s one of the reasons why organisations from the Runnymede Trust to the Salvation Army and Stonewall are concerned about these plans. The Windrush scandal earlier this year highlighted exactly the difficulties some legitimate voters could have in accessing identity documents – through no fault of their own.

“If mandatory ID were to be rolled out nationally, it could potentially result in tens of thousands of voters being denied a say. And it would hit the already marginalised hardest: poorer C2DE social grade voters were half as likely to say they were aware of the ID requirements before the trials this May…

“We’ve learnt a lot this year, with our election/information regulators and parliamentarians highlighting the shocking state of the unregulated ‘wild west’ that is online campaigning. From the spread of disinformation, to secret political donations and ‘dark ads’, the real threats to our democracy are becoming clear.

“The crucial task for government now is to focus on the real problems – we need to get to work solving them.”

* Read A Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut: The 2018 Voter ID Trials here

* Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

[Ekk/6]

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