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Photography Elliott Stallion

The Tories are trying to stop young people from voting – here’s how

New voter ID requirements won’t accept railcards or student cards as a form of ID – but they will accept pensioners’ travelcards

Today’s local elections are hugely important. Not only because we’re in the midst of a cost of living crisis and the planet is on fire, but also because they mark the last time voter ID won’t be necessary to vote in Britain.

The Elections Act was passed by Parliament in April 2022 and although voter ID provisions are not in place for today’s set of local elections, they will be for local elections in May 2023 and at any future UK Parliamentary elections. This means that after today’s elections, it’ll be necessary to bring ID such as a passport or driving licence to polling stations.

The government says the bill will protect the “integrity” of elections and prevent voter fraud. But the bill is flawed and will make it harder for young people to participate in elections. Why? Because the new laws do not allow young people to use their student ID card or travelcards as a form of ID – even though they do allow older people to use their travelcards. It’s also worth noting that postal votes – predominantly used by older people – don’t require ID at all.

While The House of Lords tried to get national railcards, student ID cards and 18+ student Oyster cards added to the list of valid documents, their amendment was rejected by the Commons. Why have they done this? There’s a slight (read: fucking huge) chance it’s linked to the fact that 56 per cent of Labour voters in the 2019 election were aged between 18 and 24, while 67 per cent of Conservative voters were over 70.

It’s estimated that millions of people will be unable to vote in upcoming elections due to not having a valid form of photo identification. Worryingly, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to possess valid ID, and recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has also found that people on low incomes are six times less likely to have a photo ID than their wealthier counterparts. As young people, ethnic minorities, and people on low incomes are more likely to vote for progressive parties, it seems as though this is a sly attempt to cling onto power from the Tories.

The bill also does away with the present second-preference system in mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections in favour of the barely-democratic first past the post (FPTP). Why have they done this? Again, unsurprisingly, Tories are more likely to win under FPTP, as there are more progressive candidates who end up splitting the votes of progressive voters. FPTP has always benefitted Tories in national elections, as young people are increasingly concentrated in cities – largely thanks to the loss of job opportunities in smaller towns – meaning that their votes pile up in the millions only to produce a handful of MPs, while votes from older people who live in smaller towns are better distributed, and therefore more impactful. 

It’s dispiriting that nearly 40 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 said they felt their vote was not important to the 2019 general election results, compared to less than a quarter of people over 65. What’s more disturbing is that it’s not even an unfounded feeling – it’s factually correct that young people’s votes count less than older people’s.

But this isn’t a reason to give in to apathy. If anything, it’s exactly why we should get out and campaign for electoral reform and push back against the Elections Act. We don’t deserve the Tories because we didn’t ask for them: they only got 43.6 per cent of the vote share in 2019. The majority of people don’t want corrupt liars in power – they want progressive, forward-thinking politicians who will strive toward making society fairer. At the very least, it’s reassuring to think that it’s the system that’s broken, not us.