What is Boris Johnson's voter ID policy and why is it so controversial?

Campaigners say the 'dangerous' plans will leave tens of thousands of people without a vote, but ministers insist that changes are needed to tackle fraud

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 December 2019 22:44
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Unemployed LBC caller says he can't vote if Boris Johnson's voter ID plan is implemented

Boris Johnson has confirmed that his government will push ahead with controversial plans to force voters to show identification at polling stations.

The proposals were included in the Queen's Speech this week, meaning they are likely to be implemented in law in the coming months.

The government insists that the changes are necessary to tackle electoral fraud, but critics say they are unnecessary and will disenfranchise tens of thousands of people.

What is the government proposing?

Under the plans put forward by ministers, all voters would have to show official identification at polling stations before they were allowed to cast their vote. Valid ID would include a driving license or passport, as well as a new type of identity document that would be created.

The proposals were initially introduced by Theresa May's government and drew anger from electoral reform groups and opposition parties.

Over the last two years, voter ID has been trialled in 10 areas of the country, with ministers hailing it as a success despite hundreds of people having been denied a vote because they did not have the correct documentation.

Is electoral fraud a big problem?

In short: no. The Electoral Commission says: "In 2018, there was no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud."

Last year police investigated 266 allegations of electoral fraud, leading to just one conviction. A further two people were given police cautions.

The year before, one conviction and eight cautions were issued.

Experts have said that electoral fraud, and allegations of it, are "exceptionally rare".

The lack of evidence of any real problem with fraud has raised questions over why the government is introducing drastic new measures to tackle it.

What do opponents say?

Critics say that voter ID will disenfranchise tens of thousands of people, given that millions of people in the UK do not have a valid passport or driving license. The government has said it will allow these people to apply for a new "local electoral identity document" free of charge , but this has done little to allay concerns.

Responding to the announcement in the Queen's Speech, Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “When millions of people lack photo ID, these plans risk raising the drawbridge to huge numbers of marginalised voters."

She added: “Make no mistake – these plans will leave tens of thousands of legitimate voters voiceless. Ministers should focus on combating the real threats to our democracy, rather than suppressing voters’ rights.

“The government has no examples to justify this ‘show your papers’ policy. There is simply no evidence of widespread impersonation. Simply put, ministers must think again and withdraw this dangerous proposal.”

The fact that voters who do not have photo ID are more likely to come from marginalised groups that lean towards Labour has led to accusations that the Tories are trying to swing the result of future elections in their favour through "voter suppression".

In October, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "These plans are clearly discriminatory and a blatant attempt by the Tories to suppress voters, deny people their democratic rights and rig the result of the next general election.

“The people that the Tories are trying to stop voting will be disproportionately from ethnic minority backgrounds and they will disproportionately be working class voters of all ethnicities."

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