Drop voter ID to prevent people being turned away at ballot box, MPs warn Boris Johnson

Government plan lacks ‘evidence and transparency’, says cross-party committee

Adam Forrest
Monday 13 December 2021 10:18
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<p>Boris Johnson outside voting station in Islington, London.</p>

Boris Johnson outside voting station in Islington, London.

Boris Johnson’s plan to introduce voter identification in the UK risks disenfranchising voters and reducing turnout at elections, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) urged the government to stop the passage of the Elections Bill – which would make photo ID mandatory at polling stations.

“There is a concern that a voter ID requirement will introduce a barrier preventing some people from exercising their vote,” warned a committee report released on Monday.

The report said that when the requirement to produce photo ID at polling stations in Northern Ireland in 2003, “the turnout at the 2004 Northern Ireland Assembly elections dropped by 2.3% as a direct consequence”.

The cross-party group of MPs said the ease with which people can vote in the UK was and “admirable and crucial tenet of our democratic process” and warned that compulsory ID would “remove an element of the trust inherent in the current system.”

Conservative MP William Wragg, chair of the committee, said the government’s aim of preventing potential voter fraud was a “noble cause” – but said the cross-party group “remains unconvinced that the scale of the problem justifies the solutions as they have been put forward”.

The influential Tory backbencher also warned against parts of the bill which could give Downing Street more power over the Electoral Commission.

The Elections Bill would allow the government to set out the watchdog’s priorities and direction in a strategy. The Electoral Commission chair John Pullinger warned last week that this would be “inconsistent” with the body’s status as an independent body.

“Any government proposal which might directly or indirectly influence the independent regulator over its operations and decision-making will invite suspicion, especially when plans have been drawn up behind closed doors,” said Mr Wragg.

The Tory chair said the majority of his committee now wanted the bill “paused” to make sure the electoral system can be protected.

“We feel that the Elections Bill proposals lack a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation, and transparency, all of which should be addressed before it makes any further progress,” he said.

The report claims the committee received a significant number of pieces of evidence raising concern that voter ID would cause additional barriers to voting for particular groups – such as disabled people, transgender voters and non-binary voters and black and ethnic minority groups.

On concerns raised by groups representing LGBTQ+ communities, the report said: “The LGBT Foundation for example raised concerns about transgender voters and non-binary voters being able to access appropriate forms of ID.”

According to the report, the Runnymede Trust also raised concerns that introducing a voter ID requirement “would add further barriers to voting for black and ethnic minority groups who are already less likely to be registered to vote and significantly less likely to hold forms of ID such as a driving licence”.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said: “We should not be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democratic process remains secure.

“Our Elections Bill will stamp out the potential for voter fraud, and will bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.

The DLUHC spokesperson added: “The UK government will be providing additional funding to cover the costs of implementing our reforms, and voters who do not have one of the required forms of photographic ID can apply for a free local Vote Card.”

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