Today, British voters on the electoral register were refused their right to vote for their local councillors and mayors. Why? Because of a voter ID trial in five local areas up and down the country, requiring voters to bring photo identification to the polls with them.
The Conservatives say this is to tackle the growing issue of voter fraud. But is voter fraud really such a big issue in British elections. No, no it isn’t.
Electoral Commission statistics show there were only 104 cases of alleged voter fraud at the last election. Of those, only 28 concerned someone voting as someone else at a polling station, and 74 of the cases saw police take no further action. Only one of these resulted in a prosecution. So if the Tories are really clamping down on the 0.000000003% instance of voter fraud, it seems like they are using a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut.
What the Tories are seemingly doing, however, is mimicking the same talking points as their Republican counterparts across the Atlantic. Voter fraud there has become synonymous with the suppression of African-American voters, adding more hurdles in front of their ability to cast their ballot. In the same way, this trial has already prevented many from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds from being able to vote.
As a society, we should be working to extend the franchise and widen participation in politics, not shut people off from it.
A mother who can barely make ends meet to feed herself should not have to then try and find the money for a form of identification to give them a right they are automatically granted as a citizen of this country.
Some claim that voter ID systems have worked abroad at tackling fraud and have increased turnout. That’s not what the evidence says, however.
The introduction of voter ID requirements has reduced voter participation and several studies suggest that this is disproportionately high amongst racial and ethnic minority groups. Those aren’t my words – they’re the words of the Electoral Reform Society. One example from their analysis of voter ID requirements abroad, Canada, found that four percent of voters were turned away as they did not have the right ID, and another four percent for turning up without it. Having eight percent of voters, who had the right to vote, be turned away due to not possessing the right identification is shameful. But, with government figures showing that 10% of citizens don’t own a passport or a driving licence, that is what the Tories are proposing.
What’s more, the chosen areas for this test are predominantly in the south of England and are predominantly white, meaning that any results from this trial will be hard to map on to the country as a whole, with groups most likely affected by the proposed change not being a part of the trial.
In some, the prospect of voter ID becoming a mandatory requirement to vote in Britain raises serious concerns for democracy and risks disenfranchising thousands, if not millions, of people across the country. All for the sake of an infinitesimally small rate of voter fraud and introduced by a government that has also forcibly deported members of the Windrush generation for not having the documents to prove their citizenship.