By Jack Hannigan
Plans to enforce all voters to present photographic ID when at the polling station were confirmed in the Queen’s Speech on Monday 14 October.
The Government wants to implement this legislation in order to crack down on voter fraud. Or as put in the Queen’s Speech “to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.”
However, soon after the announcement a number of complaints were voiced. According to the Electoral Reform Society, 3.5 million people do not have access to any sort of photographic ID and 11 million citizens don’t have either a passport or a driving license.
The Electoral Vote Commission, the independent body which administers elections in the United Kingdom, has conducted research into the consequences of introducing voter ID when casting a vote. In the 10 areas where the Commission tested the impact of photo ID, just under 2000 people were initially turned away and of those, 740 did not return to cast a vote.
According to the Electoral Commission’s research, “allowing only existing forms of officially issued photo ID would not be accessible for everyone,” but suggest“providing free of charge locally issued photo ID, as currently provided for electors in Northern Ireland.”
The Electoral Commission also stated that “photo ID requirement would provide the greatest level of security.” In the 10 areas tested people felt the added security was positive and staff at the polling stations felt it was ran effectively. They also recommend however, ‘Government and Parliament should consider what level of security is proportionate to the risk of personation fraud in polling stations.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to the Government’s plans saying, “These plans are clearly discriminatory and a blatant attempt by the Tories to suppress voters, deny people their democratic rights and rig the result of the next general election.”
Ed Miliband, former Labour leader, also weighed in on the argument via Twitter saying “photo ID to vote without any evidence of a problem such an obvious US voter suppression move…plus in small print of briefing document making people re-apply for postal votes every three years….more bureaucracy to disenfranchise more people, particularly older voters.’
As well as this, the Chief Executive of campaign group Electoral Reform Society, Darren Hughes when speaking to the BBC said that “millions of people lack photo ID, these mooted plans risk raising the drawbridge to huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) voters.”
In response to the backlash, a government spokesman stated that “International election observers have repeatedly called for the introduction of ID in polling stations in Great Britain, saying its absence is a security risk.” Additionally, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which suggested the UK should introduce “a more robust mechanism for identification of voters.”
Shaun Bailey, Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, stated: “This is a crude attempt by Jeremy Corbyn to play identity politics and fuel a race row…You need ID to buy alcohol, leave the country, open a bank account…Of course it is ok to as for ID in order to vote in elections. This is yet another example of an out of touch and patronising Labour Party. ” Despite the Labour leader’s position, Kate Hoey, a long-standing Labour MP also announced that she was in support of the idea, claiming that it worked well in Northern Ireland (where it was introduced in 2003).
The plans will not be implemented in time for a possible snap general election but are expected to be implemented in time for the next planned general election in 2022.