A coalition of charities and academics has warned the Government that plans to enforce voter ID at the upcoming local elections could ‘damage turnout and undermine engagement’.
Whitehall has announced plans to launch voter ID pilots in local elections in May in a move to tackle electoral fraud. Voters in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Woking and Watford will be required to produce ID before being issued with a ballot paper.
However, 40 charities and academics have written to Chloe Smith MP, minister for the constitution, warning this was a disproportionate response that could lead to people from vulnerable groups being disenfranchised.
‘The Government’s commitment to building a safe and secure democracy is commendable. Electoral fraud is a serious crime and has the potential to undermine public confidence in elections, even if conducted on a small scale,’ the letter reads.
‘However, there is simply not enough evidence of voter fraud in the UK to justify these potentially damaging pilots, which threaten to disenfranchise members of some of the most vulnerable groups of society.’
In 2016 there were 44 allegations of impersonation out of nearly 64 million votes, reflecting just one case for every 1.5 million votes cast.
Last year there were only 28 allegations of impersonation out of nearly 45 million votes — one case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Only one of these allegations resulted in a conviction.
The letter said that many international studies show restrictive identification requirements are disadvantageous to those who are less likely to possess approved photo ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons.
‘Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless,’ the letter says.
The coalition, led by the Electoral Reform Society, acknowledges local authorities are taking steps to ensure a lack of photo ID does not prevent anyone from voting. However, it warns these ‘do not go far enough’.
They also raised concerns over whether councils had carried out adequate equality impact assessments on the pilots.
‘Electoral fraud is a serious issue – but mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut,’ said Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society.
‘Requiring voters to bring ID to the polling station risks excluding far more people than the handful attempting to undermine the result.
‘As has been seen in the US, mandatory voter ID raises sizeable barriers to people wishing to legitimately express their democratic will – and the millions who do not hold any form of photo ID.
‘Our democratic procedures are widely respected without the need for over-bearing policies like this.
‘The Government needs to rethink these plans urgently, to ensure that our democracy is not threatened by these heavy-handed changes.
‘We have electoral officers and a highly-respected judicial system to prevent abuses – let’s strengthen them, rather than potentially disenfranchising millions.’