I completely share concerns over the plans to make it compulsory to show ID at a polling station by 2023 for local elections in England and UK General Elections. Ministers claim this will make these elections more secure by preventing in-person voter fraud. However, the Government’s own findings show our current voting system is safe and secure. The independent Electoral Commission says there are “low levels of proven electoral fraud”. In 2019, for example, there was one conviction and one police caution for someone impersonating another voter.
Moreover, millions of people lack photo ID in this country, particularly elderly, low income, and Black, Asian and ethnic minority voters. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to the Cabinet Office in 2018 to express concern about this. More recently, I know that 17 leading civil society groups – including some in the United States of America – have called these proposals ‘dangerous’ and urged them to be dropped, because of the potential discriminatory impact. In my view, ministers should heed the warnings of the EHRC and these respected civil rights groups.
The Government says the approved forms of photographic ID will not be limited to passports and driving licences, and that a local elector ID will be available free of charge for those without ID. However, it has not provided any details of how this scheme will work.
Ministers have also yet to provide an estimate of the cost of their plans, but in 2018, the Cabinet Office put the potential cost at £20 million per general election. I know some civil society groups have argued such money would be better spent on improving electoral registration because as many as 9.4 million people in Great Britain are not correctly registered to vote.
I firmly believe we need to encourage more people to participate in our democracy and not erect unnecessary barriers which make it harder to do so. Giving people a say at the ballot box helps make our democratic country what it is, and we must not do anything to undermine that.