The newly proposed requirement has been described as ‘a blatant attempt by the Tories to rig the result of the next general election’
This weekend, the Queen’s speech revealed planned changes to the British voting system. Under a newly proposed legal requirement, voters could have to show ID at the ballot box. Dubbed the ‘Electoral Integrity Bill’, the idea is that the new rule will reduce voter fraud.
In reality, requiring photo ID at polling stations before people can vote could severely affect voter turnout, particularly among disadvantaged groups or ethnic minorities.
The new plans draw on the words of former Conservative cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles, who in 2016 claimed there was evidence of voter fraud “especially in communities of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background”. He based this on a report conducted after a specific scandal in 2015, when Tower Hamlets mayor, Lufter Rahman – Britain’s first Muslim mayor – was sacked after he was found rigging votes.
However, cases of voter fraud happening are still rare. Clare Collier, advocacy director at the charity Liberty, told the Guardian: “In 2017 there was just one conviction for impersonation at an election.” According to the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), last year out of millions of votes cast in the UK, there were only eight allegations of fraud.
The number of people who would be unable to vote if this change came about would far outweigh the number of people committing fraud. The ERS say more than 700 people were denied a vote in ID trials in 10 council wards during Theresa May’s local elections. A huge number of the people who were turned away did not return to vote, demonstrating that the new policy could be very bad news for British voter turnout in the long term.
Who would the change affect most? Well, it’s estimated that 3.5 million UK citizens do not have access to photo ID, with young people, older people, those living with disabilities, transgender people, homeless people, those who are BAME, and travellers impacted by this the most.
According to Collier, requiring a passport or driving license is therefore not only likely to damage overall turnout but it “will worst affect those who are already disadvantaged”. In other words, requiring a photo ID to vote could make it difficult, or in some cases impossible, for marginalised people to vote, and so it’s a threat to participation in UK democracy.
According to reports in the Guardian, Sir Simon Woolley, the founder of Operation Black Vote, called the move “troubling and disappointing, not least because the case hasn’t been proven on voter fraud”. Since there is no real evidence of a severe problem with voter fraud, he says, “people are suspicious it’s for other motives.”
Inevitably, the change could skew votes based on who it would alienate from voting. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn perhaps put it most clearly: “Voter ID is a blatant attempt by the Tories to rig the result of the next general election.”