Government urged to drop voter ID plans before legal challenge

By agency reporter
December 5, 2018

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) is urging ministers to drop plans to impose mandatory voter ID, as the government looks set to face a legal challenge to the trials.

Legal advice seen by the ERS in June showed the voter ID trials could be unlawful as they were imposed by ministerial diktat rather than through Parliament.

Antony Peto QC, from the leading Blackstone Chambers, suggested that ministers acted beyond the scope of the law in ordering the trial of compulsory voter ID in five boroughs in England at last month’s local elections.

Now, Neil Coughlan from one of next year’s trial areas – Braintree – is crowdfunding for a legal challenge of the trials, as he does not have access to photo ID. 

A successful challenge would mean that the pilots could not be run without the passing of legislation and a parliamentary debate.

Mr Coughlan is planning to raise around £10,000 to launch the legal challenge, with the crowdfunder launching on Tuesday 4 December 2018.

The May 2018 trials came under severe scrutiny from a coalition of campaigners, academics and civil society groups, from the Salvation Army to Age UK, the British Youth Council and the Runnymede Trust.

Around 350 people were denied the vote after having no, or incorrect, ID in the five areas: twice as many people as have been accused of personation – the type of fraud mandatory ID aims to prevent – in eight years across the entire UK.

Rolling out voter ID is expected to cost up to £20 million per General Election, according to the government’s own figures.

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society said: “There is overwhelming civil society opposition to the government’s plans to put up barriers to voters. Now it appears that the government may have to defend their disastrous proposals in the courts.

“With millions of people lacking photographic ID, it is no surprise the government are potentially facing a legal challenge to their ‘show your papers’ policy.

“Ministers should stop wasting time and taxpayers’ money pursuing these dangerous and undemocratic plans, and focus on the real democratic problems Britain faces instead: not least the ‘wild west’ in online campaigning.

“While the government goes after British voters without access to the right ID, our electoral laws leave us open to significant interference from those with deep pockets, with analogue-age rules on political funding and a lack of transparency in online political advertising.

“The government are rearranging the deckchairs while our democracy veers towards an iceberg. This potential legal challenge should be yet another wake-up call for ministers to think again.”

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

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

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