Buried official figures demolish government case for mandatory voter ID, says ERS

By agency reporter
June 11, 2019

New research for the Electoral Commission has dealt a fresh blow to the government’s case for mandatory voter ID, according to the Electoral Reform Society. 

Electoral fraud is far down voters’ list of worries, according to buried BMG Research polling for the Electoral Commission. Low turnout, media bias and foreign interference are much bigger concerns among the public.

And the proportion of people saying voter ID would prevent electoral fraud has decreased dramatically to just 35 per cent – a 17 percentage point drop since December 2016.

The ‘Winter Tracker’ polling also shows up the government’s argument that voter ID is necessary to improve public trust in elections: voters in Northern Ireland are much more worried about fraud than those in England, despite the former using ID. The finding suggests mandatory ID is not a panacea at restoring ‘faith in the electoral process’, as government ministers suggest.

The ERS say the figures discredit government arguments that voters need this mandatory ID imposed, in order to enshrine confidence in democracy.

Research by the Electoral Commission shows that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5 per cent of the electorate) do not have access to any photo ID. And if voter identification requirements were restricted to passports or driving licenses, around 11 million citizens (24 per cent of the electorate) could potentially be disenfranchised. The costs of introducing such a scheme nationally are estimated to be around £20 million.

Prior to the 2018 pilots, a major coalition of over 40 leading civil society groups, charities and academics joined the ERS in opposing mandatory ID plans – including Age UK, Stonewall, Liberty, The Salvation Army, Migrants’ Rights Network, the British Youth Council and the Race Equality Foundation.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These figures further discredit the government’s undemocratic push for mandatory voter ID. It’s clear that impersonation at the ballot box is not something the public is worried about for the very good reason that there is little evidence the problem even exists.

“Trust in our democratic system is vital – which is why ministerial scaremongering about fraud is especially dangerous.

“Mandatory voter ID poses an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality. Millions lack the required forms of identification and these plans could see tens of thousands of legitimate voters made voiceless.

“Ministers must now focus on combating the real threats to our democracy – rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”

2019 Electoral Commission BMG Tracker Results

Democratic problems and priorities:

According to the BMG analysis for the Electoral Commission: “The item that most identify as a serious problem is bias in the media (32 per cent), followed by low voter turnout at elections (29 per cent) and inadequate regulation of political activity on social media (19 per cent).”

When asked to score these problems on a scale, with 1 not a problem and 5 a serious problem:

  • 62 per cent of respondents say bias in the media is a problem (4 or 5 on the scale) – the joint highest result. Only 9 per cent of respondents think it is not (1 or 2)
  • 62 per cent of respondents say low voter turnout at elections is a problem
  • Only 32 per cent of respondents said electoral fraud is somewhat/a serious problem, down four points since 2018
  • 41 per cent of respondents say foreign influence on UK election results is a problem
  • 46 per cent of respondents say inadequate regulation of political activity on social media is a problem, with just 15 per cent saying it is not
  • 49 per cent of respondents think that inadequate regulation of the money political parties spend on their election campaigns is a problem, with only 13 per cent saying this is not a problem
  • 34 per cent of respondents do not think intimidation of candidates running for election is a problem, with 26 per cent saying that it is

Electoral safety/fraud:

The proportion of people saying that showing ID would prevent electoral fraud has decreased to just 35 per cent – a 17 percentage points since December 2016, when 52 per cent of respondents stated this.

“There has been a small increase in the number saying they feel voting in general is safe from fraud and abuse. Fewer feel voting is safe from fraud and abuse in Northern Ireland (81 per cent) than do in England (88 per cent), Scotland (90 per cent) and Wales (85 per cent).”

Thirty-six per cent said that voting in general is very safe from fraud or abuse – up eight per cent since 2018.

“There continues to be a gulf between those stating voting at a polling station is safe from fraud and abuse compared to postal voting. Nine in ten say that voting at a polling station is safe (90 per cent), compared to seven in 10 for postal voting (68 per cent). Indeed, the proportion saying so for voting by post has declined slightly from 73 per cent in 2018.”

“Electors in Northern Ireland are more likely to state that elections in their country have been affected by electoral fraud. Around a third (36 per cent) of respondents in Northern Ireland say so, which compares to 23 per cent in England, 23 per cent in Scotland, and 29 per cent in Wales.”

The polling also shows that, when asked what could increase their satisfaction with registration, the most popular change is automatic registration when people turn 18 (or 16 in Scotland) – 26 per cent state this preference (the same as in 2018).

Being able to check whether one is registered online and having one’s registration update automatically when one moves house were the second and third most popular options (chosen by 23 per cent and 16 per cent of respondents respectively).

* Read the Winter Tracking 2019 research report here

* Electoral Commission https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/

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

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