Compulsory voter ID is nothing more than a shameless attempt at voter suppression
Bringing in compulsory voter ID is an entirely disproportionate response to a thankfully rare problem. But it could disenfranchise already marginalised communities, says Angela Eagle MP.
Democracy should be inclusive and open to all, but this Tory Government seems determined to construct barriers to participation for those already disengaged. The plans unveiled in the Queen’s Speech to make it compulsory for voters to provide photo ID in order to vote amounts to nothing more than a shameless attempt at voter suppression.
Incidences of voter fraud in this country are extremely rare. In 2017, 44 million votes were cast yet there were just 28 allegations of electoral fraud with only one person being convicted. In 2018, there were just 7 allegations. Bringing in compulsory voter ID is an entirely disproportionate response to a thankfully rare problem. But it could disenfranchise already marginalised communities.
In the UK 11 million people have no passport or driving licence. In fact, 3.5 million people do not have access to any photo ID at all. Many are from the most marginalised and disadvantaged in society – those on lower incomes, BAME voters, disabled, transgender and homeless people as well as the elderly. Introducing mandatory voter ID is designed to put up unnecessary barriers to voting, just as any healthy democracy should be looking to encourage more participation rather than less.
That’s not to say that there are not very real problems with electoral interference, and legislation must be introduced to tackle these issues – the spread of misinformation, anonymous adverts on social media and dodgy donations. Instead of tackling these big problems which really do threaten our democracy, the Government choosing to take a page straight from the playbook of Republican gerrymandering in America. It is cynically inflating the problem of voter fraud by choosing to focus on voter ID and hope no-one will notice its own dubious behaviour.
We saw that the Conservatives’ rushed decision to introduce individual electoral registration in 2014 led to 800,000 dropping off the electoral register. Many of these people were students and young people who tend to vote Labour. The more recent voter ID pilots had a similar, but on a smaller scale, set of results, with over a thousand people being denied the right to vote. The Government has failed to provide any sufficient evidence that introducing voter ID will even actually help with this tiny problem – with the Electoral Commission unable to confirm whether these pilot schemes had any impact on voter fraud at all.
This plan is discriminatory. Older voters, who tend to vote Conservative, will be disproportionally affected. Data from the most recent census in 2011 shows that whilst 70% of people over the age of 65 hold a UK passport, this drops significantly for people aged 85 and over, with just 46% holding a UK passport. The Windrush scandal has also demonstrated that it can be enormously difficult for some groups to provide official documents.
This is a Government that has shown that it is content to try and deny Parliamentary scrutiny and it cannot now be allowed to deny people the right to vote. The Labour Party believes that democracy is for everybody, and we must always fight to protect and uphold this principle.
Angela Eagle is Labour MP for Wallasey.
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