Mandatory voter ID could see millions facing new barriers to vote in elections
While extending the franchise for our elections is a positive move, the Elections Bill fails to offer any proposals to address the missing millions from our electoral roll.
On Monday, the government introduced their long-awaited Elections Bill to parliament. The bill, ministers claim, is important legislation that will ‘protect our democracy’. But in practice it could do the very opposite.
The main measure of the bill is the controversial plan to introduce mandatory voter ID – a move which would require voters to show photo ID before casting their ballot at a polling station.
The bill has already attracted opposition from across the Commons, with Conservative MP David Davis calling it “an illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem” while Labour’s Cat Smith, Shadow Secretary of State for Young People and Democracy, claimed the move was the government “trying to change the rules and rig our democracy in their favour”.
Mandatory voter ID represents an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality and could leave millions of voters unable to cast their ballot.
Possession of ID is not universal across the UK, with the government’s own figures suggesting that roughly 2.1 million people could be unable to vote in a general election due to not having recognisable photo ID.
Many of those most likely to be affected include already marginalised groups in society.
Last month the Electoral Commission warned that disadvantaged groups, including the unemployed, renters and disabled people, are less likely to have ID and risk being locked out.
Our election laws remain outdated and ridden with loopholes that allow dark money and disinformation to penetrate our democracy
Even with the introduction of a free elector card – available to those without the required identification to allow them to cast a ballot – the move could still see millions of people facing new barriers to vote.
Of those surveyed by the government who didn’t possess any ID, 42 per cent said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to apply for the card leaving them without the proof needed to vote on election day.
Elsewhere, the Bill ends the 15-year limit on overseas electors voting in UK general elections – potentially opening the floodgates to offshore money and foreign interference. A seemingly innocuous move but one that risks allowing unfettered donations from abroad and ending the long-held principle that those funding our parties should live or work here in the UK.
While extending the franchise for our elections is a positive move, the Bill fails to offer any proposals to address the missing millions from our electoral roll by improving our outdated system of voter registration to close the gap between those entitled to vote and those who do.
The Elections Bill is an opportunity for the government to bring forward policies to improve our democracy and protect our elections from the very real threats they face.
Proposals on digital imprints so voters know who is targeting them with online ads, are a much-needed step but only scratch the surface when it comes to what’s needed to regulate the wild west of online campaigning.
Our campaign finance laws have not been updated since the year 2000, our election laws remain outdated and ridden with loopholes that allow dark money and disinformation to penetrate our democracy.
But instead of these threats, the government has chosen to focus on voter ID, in order to ensure “public faith” in our elections.
Despite government talking up the risk of voter fraud, the Electoral Commission’s latest survey of public opinion shows that public confidence in the running of elections is at its highest level since data collection began in 2012.
These figures clearly discredit the governments arguments that voters need this Bill to boost confidence in democracy, yet they continue to fearmonger over electoral fraud to justify their plans that could see millions shut out from the ballot box.
Dr Jess Garland is the Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society.
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