Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has labelled potential new laws requiring photo ID when voting “voter suppression measures”, due to the disproportionate way in which they would impact minority groups and poorer people. The Telegraph broke the story, claiming that the new policy is set to be revealed in the upcoming Queen’s Speech. The report states that voters “will have to show identification such as driving licences or passports before casting their ballot”, replacing the old system whereby the individual has to register themselves and on the day of an election simply states their name and address in order to vote.
A Government source spoke to the Telegraph, said that “by changing the law to require voters to show some ID[…]we can ensure that everyone’s votes count and strengthen public trust in our democracy”. However, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed this claim, stating on Twitter that “the people the Tories are trying to stop voting will be disproportionately poor and from ethnic minority backgrounds”, emphasizing that he believes the move is about disenfranchising non-Conservative voters rather than improving democracy. The Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office Spokesperson Tom Brake also demonstrated contempt for the move, calling it a “thinly veiled attempt to rig the results of future elections”.
The opposition parties are correct. This policy, if announced and implemented would be a disaster for British democracy. The only redeemable feature would be if the government were to tangentially announce that all voters, or at least those who don’t have a photo ID presently, were to receive a free ID card that they can use at elections without having to apply for it first. Otherwise, this move can be viewed as nothing other than attempt by the Conservative government to stifle democracy.
A study conducted by the Electoral Commission earlier this year found no significant threat to elections by people pretending to be someone else, known as ‘personation’. In 2018, there were a total of 8 accusations of personation (of which 7 concluded in no action), down from 28 in 2017 and 45 in 2016. During a 2019 trial of voter ID laws in local council elections, 2000 people were turned away from polling due to ID laws with roughly 750 not returning to cast their vote. An LSE article, reacting to the Electoral Commission study, concluded that there is “insufficient evidence to suggest that personation fraud is widespread in the U.K., which makes it hard to justify this level of disenfranchisement”.
The idea that voter fraud is a credible threat to U.K. politics is laughable. Quite simply, there is no problem in the U.K. of people pretending to be someone else in order to cast votes. The time, resources and money that would need to be spent on addressing the non-issue would be better spent addressing actual threats to British democracy, such as fake news, foreign interference in elections or media bias. By trying to claim to care about having a pure democracy, whilst simultaneously blaming ordinary voters and ignoring other threats, it shows that actually the Conservatives probably aren’t taking it seriously at all.
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