Last week millions of voters across Britain went to the ballot box in a bumper set of elections. But government plans to restrict access to the ballot box could mean that Thursday’s elections will have been among the last of their kind to be fair and free in the UK.
Proposals to introduce mandatory voter ID, as unveiled in today’s Queen’s speech, are a dangerous attack on our democratic rights that could lead to millions of legitimate voters being locked out of the polling station on election day. It is estimated that implementing the proposals could cost up to £20m per election, a hefty price tag for an unnecessary policy, and an expensive distraction from the real issues that affect our democracy and our country more widely.
On the face of it, requiring voters to show ID at polling stations may seem like a sensible policy. A necessary step, even, to ensure that those casting a vote have the right to do so. But while the government claims the potential for fraud is there, the evidence it exists is hard to find.
In March the Cabinet Office published a joint statement from the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments which declared:
“the United Kingdom is world-renowned for running elections of the highest standards in which voters can have full confidence.”
A far cry from the Cabinet Office’s recent support for the proposals that they claim “combat the inexcusable potential for voter fraud in our current system.”
Widespread voter fraud at the ballot box would be easy to see. We’d find hundreds of people turning up to vote on polling day to find a ballot had already been cast in their name – yet few such claims exist.
Of the 595 alleged cases of electoral fraud investigated by the police in 2019 only 33 related to voter impersonation at a polling station – that is just 0.000057% of the over 58m votes cast in all the elections that took place that year.
Quite apart from the absence of any widespread voter impersonation, there are clear problems with forcing people to produce ID before they vote.
According to official figures:
- 3.5 million people do not have access to photo ID in the UK.
- 11 million don’t have a passport or a driving licence.
Even senior conservatives are opposed to the proposals, with former Brexit secretary David Davis describing the plans as an “illiberal solution in pursuit of a nonexistent problem” and urging the government to drop its “pointless proposals”.
Davis is right: this policy is a solution in search of a problem. Voting is safe and secure in the UK – the government has said so itself.