By Robert A. Vella
In the U.S. over the last eight years or so, critics of Republican voter id plans asked the following question:
Why do you want new voter id requirements?
The question was typically answered by Republicans with vague claims about “massive voter fraud” favoring Democrats. Those claims elicited numerous electoral studies which showed voter fraud to be statistically irrelevant (See: Myth of Voter Fraud). Furthermore, Republican politicians have been caught on several occasions admitting their true motives for pursuing new voter id laws and other policies designed to suppress voter turnout in a targeted, discriminatory manner (See: Some Republicans Acknowledge Leveraging Voter ID Laws for Political Gain).
Now, the same tactics are being pursued in the U.K. where the Tories (i.e. conservatives) are facing a mounting backlash over the Brexit fallout as well as the painful consequences of their aggressive austerity policies.
Government plans to tighten voter identification measures appear to be a “calculated effort” by ministers to make voting harder for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, experts have warned.
In its first in-depth analysis of the plans, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said mandatory ID checks at polling stations would “disenfranchise” millions of voters who do not hold any form of photo ID – often due to financial reasons.
Based on research of voter ID checks in the US, the study found the policy, which will force members of the public to show ID before voting, mounts “sizeable barriers” to ethnic minority and lower socio-economic backgrounds wishing to vote.
Figures suggest 3.5 million people – 7.5 per cent of the electorate – do not have access to any form of photo ID, while even more (11 million) do not have a passport or driving licence.
The report also suggests that a pilot study to be conducted in several areas of the country – most of which are in the south-east and have below-average unemployment rates – will provide insufficient data to assess the impact of a UK-wide roll-out.
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the ERS, said: “It’s hard not to see this as a calculated effort by the government to make voting harder for some citizens. As such it’s vital we think about the risks these changes pose to a free and fair franchise in the UK. We need policy based on hard facts – not rumour and innuendo.
“With millions of people lacking the right photographic ID – and no government plans for a universal, free alternative – this can only mean another barrier for honest voters. The government know this, which makes this policy all the more concerning.
“These deeply flawed trials must not be a fait accompli for the government’s plan to roll out an ill-thought policy. Mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s time for an evidence-based approach instead.”
The warning comes after a study by the Electoral Commission found just 28 allegations of someone having lied about their identity at a polling station in 2017, despite almost 45 million votes having been cast – suggesting concern about voter fraud is overblown.