Millions expected to be disenfranchised under ‘voter suppression’ ID card plans

Government pressing ahead with new restrictions on voting despite being aware 2 million lack required ID

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 05 July 2021 13:07
<p>Millions of people do not have a passport or other way to prove their identity </p>

Millions of people do not have a passport or other way to prove their identity

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Millions of people are set be disenfranchised under the government's plans to require people to have identification in order to vote, Labour has warned.

The government says the proposed laws, introduced into the Commons today, are required to combat in-person voter fraud – despite little evidence of it being an issue in British elections.

Shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said the government's policy amounted to US-style "voter suppression" that would make it harder for people from ethnic minorities, and those on low incomes to vote - groups on average opposed to the government.

Pilots across local areas in England requiring voter ID in 2018 and 2019 saw 1,159 voters turned away from polling stations, but the government decided to press ahead with the plan anyway.

And in May the Cabinet Office slipped out a study that found more than two million people currently lack the necessary ID to vote.

That study, released on 11 May, was published on the same day as the Queen's Speech, which included plans to press ahead with voter ID laws.

“It doesn’t matter how the government tries to dress it up, these plans will make it harder for working-class, older and black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons to vote,” Labour's Ms Smith said.

“They know this is the case because their own research shows that millions of our fellow citizens lack photo ID in this country.”

In the United States, voter ID laws are the latest in a string of policies designed to suppress voter turnout among African Americans, who are less likely to have identity documents.

But the issue is a new one in Great Britain, with elections on the island never having required ID.

Voter ID cards have long been required in Northern Ireland, but critics say the province has a different context given its history of paramilitary violence.

Under the government's plan for Great Britain, voters will have to ask for a card – and critics say it will add yet more friction to the process that will reduce turnout disproportionately among certain groups of people.

Many countries in Europe require ID cards to vote, but most also have widespread national identity card schemes.

The Electoral Commission says that "the UK has low levels of proven electoral fraud" and that "there remains no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud in 2019", the most recent general election.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said that “everyone eligible to vote will be able to do so” and repeated that voter cards would be issued free to those who needed them to prove their identity.

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