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Voter ID has damaged our democracy

(Alamy)

3 min read

The requirement for photo ID for a person already registered to vote in a United Kingdom election was a daft idea from the start.

In the autumn of last year, the Chancellor announced he would need to make choices of “eye-watering difficulty” and then promptly chose to spend £180m over the next decade on preventing instances of in-person voter fraud that I could literally count on my fingers.

Various protestations at the despatch box that the government’s aim was “maintaining the British public’s trust in the sanctity of the ballot box” didn’t really ring true.

In his speech to the National Conservative Conference this week, former leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed the worst opposition suspicions: “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding that their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections.”

How could the Conservatives have been so incompetent that they inadvertently suppressed their own vote?

This clearly raises a number of hugely important questions. For example, is it lawful for the party of government to wilfully try to influence the outcome of elections in their favour through the means of passing legislation to suppress groups of voters?

Have the numerous reassurances to the House by ministers and Cabinet members that this was not the case been deliberately misleading?

How could the Conservatives have been so incompetent that they inadvertently suppressed their own vote?

The first two questions require expert investigation, but the third is worth contemplating for a moment. It was not news that the most over-represented group in those without a valid ID were the over 85s. This was briefed by the Electoral Commission well in advance of 4 May.

It’s also well known that the over 85s are the most likely to be digitally excluded – applying for a Voter Authority Certificate and uploading a digital photo would be beyond a proportion of that age group.

So why the Conservatives thought they would be putting off younger voters, whose IDs are routinely required to buy drinks in pubs, clubs and off-licenses, and who generally are not fazed by the thought of uploading a photo, is just confirmation that they have completely lost touch with real life.

The real scandal in this story is that a potentially large group of people have been disenfranchised. One person losing their right to participate would have been unacceptable.

We don’t have exact figures, but early headline numbers from those councils who have released information on those turned away, suggest that thousands of people lost their right to vote on May 4. That is an outrage.

We will never know how many more didn’t go to the polling station in the first place because they didn’t have ID, or were turned away in the queue and didn’t have the time to return later on.

We will also never know how many didn’t turn up to vote because they are sick to death of the Conservatives’ never-ending scandal and total disregard for our valued institutions and the rule of law.

One thing we can be sure of though, is that following Jacob-Rees Mogg’s assertion that the Conservatives have tried to swing the result in their favour by denying huge numbers of people their right to participate, the latter group will have even less faith in politicians and the democratic process than before. That is a truly damaging legacy, and one that will not be simple to repair.

 

Helen Morgan, Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for local government

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