Madison Plumridge discusses Tory plans to implement a mandatory identification check at polling stations.
Call me radical, but I believe ordinary people being able to vote in elections to be a basic tenet of democracy. I also believe it to be the responsibility of politicians to make voting in elections as easy, inclusive, and accessible as possible. In this respect, the UK is largely successful: polling stations open early and close late in order to accommodate people’s varying schedules and, for most people, their polling station is only a short walk from their home. Some political parties, Labour in particular, are even known to offer lifts to and from the polling station to the elderly and for those unable to walk there themselves. Whilst, at the minute, people generally have more excuses to vote than not to, that could easily change with the Conservative party’s plan to implement voter ID: this would result in showing identification, such as a passport or driver’s license, at the polling station – compulsory in order to vote.
Let’s call out the government’s attempt to implement compulsory voter ID laws for what it is: voter suppression. More specifically, voter suppression of minority groups; ethnic minorities and working-class voters in particular, who are less likely to be in possession of a passport or driver’s license. The government has attempted to give some justification for this proposed law change, citing “people pretending to be other people to steal their votes” as the main reason. However, electoral fraud in the UK is low: in elections between 2010 and 2018, only 181 people have been accused of impersonating another person at polling stations, with most of these accusations later being dropped.
Whereas, when compulsory voter ID was trialled in some areas of the UK during the 2019 local elections, 1,968 people were turned away in that election alone for not having any, or the correct, identification. It’s safe to say that all these people were not attempting to commit electoral fraud. Instead, we can conclude that almost 2,000 people were denied their right to vote. For context, our prime minister, Boris Johnson, has a majority of only around 5,000 voters in his constituency.
It’s also worth noting that, out of the 1,968 people turned away during the voter ID trials, over a third (740 people) did not return to vote. This is significant as, even though the majority of UK citizens do indeed have some suitable form of ID, many have tight schedules – such as long and unsociable working hours, or childcare commitments – which means they may not have time to return to the polling station should they forget their ID. This problem, unsurprisingly, is disproportionately more likely to be faced by typical Labour voters (such as single mothers or minimum-wage workers) and less likely to be faced by typical Conservative voters (such as the rich, the retired and the elderly).
Currently, over 11 million people in the UK don’t have a driving license or passport: the same amount of people who voted for David Cameron in 2015, and certainly a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Whilst compulsory voter ID laws may motivate some people to obtain ID who don’t currently have any, a passport costs £75, which isn’t feasible for everyone. The people most likely to find the cost of obtaining ID a barrier are also, perhaps uncoincidentally, the same people least likely to vote for the Conservative party, which calls into question the sincerity of the Conservative government’s supposed “concerns” over voter fraud. Even if the Tories are truly concerned about electoral fraud, voter ID proves pretty futile a tactic in preventing it; most voter fraud is done via postal voting, which the Conservatives have failed to properly address. This is likely because postal votes are overwhelmingly used by older, more conservative-leaning voters.
If anything exposes the discriminatory nature of compulsory ID laws, it’s the Windrush scandal. Nearly 21,000 people of the Windrush generation do not possess a British passport, which led to many losing their homes and jobs after failing to prove they weren’t illegal immigrants, despite them legally immigrating here decades ago. With compulsory voter ID laws, it’s likely these same people, and others in a similar position, would lose their right to vote too.
The government’s intention to suppress voters and deplete votes for Labour through compulsory voter ID is clear. Voter fraud in the UK is almost nonexistent, and a tiny percentage of votes being fraudulent is arguably a small price to pay to uphold those who cannot afford a passport or driver’s license right to vote and allow people to participate in elections as fully as possible.