Voter ID plan is 'ineffective' and could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, report finds

Around 340 voters turned away from ballot box in pilot areas during May elections and did not return because they did not have required ID, warns Electoral Reform Society

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 11 September 2018 15:22
Voter ID plan is 'ineffective' and could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, report finds

Government plans to introduce voter ID checks could disenfranchise tens of thousands of people and is an ineffective way to cut down on voter fraud, a report has found.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has highlighted concerns about the potential consequences of forcing voters to show ID documents at the polling station, saying it is akin to “rearranging the deckchairs while our democracy heads towards an iceberg”.

It comes as the Constitution Minister Chloe Smith told MPs on Tuesday the government was rolling the practice out nationally, while also admitting she had no idea how much the wider scheme would cost.

Pilots of voter ID schemes were carried out in the UK's 3 May local elections this year, during which The Independent revealed a number of people were denied the right to vote.

The planned introduction has since raised concerns it may make it more difficult for vulnerable groups like those with disabilities, the homeless and older voters to cast their ballot.

The report found around 340 voters were turned away from the ballot box at the pilots and did not return because they did not have the required ID.

It concludes: “Requiring voters to present identification at the polling station is a disproportionate and ineffective response to the extremely rare incidence of voter fraud.

“Not only does it not address the alleged ‘problem’ of personation, but it has the potential to stifle electoral participation among legitimate voters, and to have a particularly discriminatory effect on the most vulnerable and disengaged groups.”

‘It’s shocking’: People denied vote in the UK for first time ever over lack of ID

The government said an “overwhelming majority” of people cast their vote without a problem and said it planned to continue to pilot ID at next year’s local elections.

During an evidence session with the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (PACAC), Ms Smith said the 340 voters was a “very small number”, at 0.14 per cent.

In the same hearing, she claimed the 28 voters in the country suspected of voter fraud in 2017 – 0.000063 per cent of the population - showed an “obvious weakness in our democracy“.

Jess Garland, director of research at the ERS, 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.”

Ms Garland said if the scheme was rolled out nationally it could cost the taxpayer up to £20m 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,” she said, adding: “The government should abandon these costly, undemocratic plans and focus on boosting democratic engagement instead.”

During the pilot in May, a 76-year-old man who had lived in Bromley for 40 years told The Independent he was “shocked” to be turned away because he did not have a bank card or passport.

Under the pilot scheme, voters were required to produce accepted identity documents including a passport, driving licence, European ID card or Oyster 60+ London Pass.

Dozens of campaign organisations, including Age UK, the Salvation Army, Stonewall and Operation Black Vote, have previously called for the new laws to be scrapped.

Cat Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for voter engagement and youth affairs, said it was “staggering” the government planned to “waste tens of millions of pounds on mandatory ID checks in polling stations”.

She added: “The Windrush scandal has demonstrated that it can be difficult for some communities to provide official documentation, yet the government remains wedded to their undemocratic and unaffordable plans.

“The government should stop trying to make it harder for people to vote and abandon next year’s pilot schemes as a matter of urgency.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Voters deserve to be confident that their vote is protected.

“We already ask that people prove who they are in order to collect a parcel from the post office, rent a car, or travel abroad – and we believe it is right to take the same approach to protect voting rights.

“Evaluation from the May 2019 pilots will further inform how voter ID should work on a national scale, including costs and what approach will work best for voters and the taxpayer.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in