Ministers are facing calls to ditch plans for nationwide voter ID checks as it emerged introducing them at a general election could cost up to £20m – even though there were only 28 cases of polling station impersonations alleged in 2017.
The government has been urged to abandon the contentious proposals, with the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) pointing out that at this rate, the cost could equate to £700,000 per fraud allegation.
Labour has claimed the moves are in danger of locking people out of the democratic process, and critics fear it could disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and the poorest.
It comes after ministers vowed to press ahead with plans to extend trials of the scheme, despite hundreds of people being turned away from the ballot box during tests in several locations during May’s local elections.
Details of the potential cost, which includes the price of hiring and training extra staff to carry out the identification checks, were set out with little fanfare in a Cabinet Office paper released ahead of the summer recess.
“We already knew that this policy was a solution looking for a problem, but now it looks like it will be an expensive one at that,” Darren Hughes, chief executive of the ERS, told The Independent.
He continued: “The government’s draconian plan to force voters to prove themselves at the polling station could add as much as £20m to the cost of each election.
“That’s over £700k per allegation of polling station fraud last year – a lot of money to throw at unverified rumours, when we know there are real democratic problems to fix.
“There were just 28 allegations of personation - the type of fraud ID is meant to fix – in 2017 which resulted in a single conviction out of 45 million votes. One way or another, this policy is going to cost voters dearly. The government should abandon these costly, undemocratic plans and focus on boosting democratic engagement instead.”
Rolling out the policy across the UK for a general election, according to an official Cabinet Office document, is estimated to range between £4.3m and £20.4m for three different models of voter ID.
They included the poll card model tested in Watford and Swindon, costing between £4.3m and £20.4m, and the mixed ID model involving both photographic and non-photographic ID, such as a utility bill, council tax statement or birth certificate, was estimated to cost between £4.6m and £17.1m.
The third model, photographic ID, was calculated to cost in the region of £5.9m and £17.9m.
Responding to the costings, Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement, Cat Smith, said: “Wasting tens of millions of pounds on trying to make it harder for people to vote has got to be one of the most stupid ideas ever.”
“At a time when our public services are in crisis and thousands of families are having to rely on foodbanks to stave off hunger, it is staggering that the Tories think that they can justify these undemocratic and unaffordable plans,” she added.
“Local authority election teams are already facing huge financial pressures after eight years of extreme Tory cuts and the government has no plans to address these concerns.”
Research from the Electoral Commission last month also recorded that 1,036 people – 0.6 per cent of voters – who tried to cast their ballot in areas participating in the pilot were turned away because they did not have the correct identification.
Of those, 350 people did not return to the polling station with the correct form of identification.
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.”
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