‘Unprecedented’ coalition of charities and civil society demand rethink on ‘dangerous’ voter ID trials

An ‘unprecedented’ coalition of charities and academics have written to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution, calling on the government to urgently reconsider the decision to enforce voter ID at the local elections in May. 

The group, led by the Electoral Reform Society, are calling for a rethink from across civil society – including Age UK, the National Union of Students, Operation Black Vote, the Salvation Army and Stonewall.

All are concerned that mandatory voter ID would damage turnout and undermine engagement among already disadvantaged and excluded groups – and worry the trials are a fait accompli for a national roll-out.

New figures from the Electoral Commission show there were just 28 allegations of impersonation last year our of nearly 45 million votes in 2017 – or one case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Only one of these allegations resulted in a conviction.

The coalition of groups argue voter ID reforms present a significant barrier to democratic engagement and could disadvantage young people, older people, disabled, transgender, BAME communities and the homeless.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Electoral fraud is a serious issue – but mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“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.”

Simon Woolley, Director, Operation Black Vote, said:

“This is clearly not a political issue, but rather a democratic concern. Right now our democracy needs to be the strongest it can be, therefore, we should be making the process of voting much easier, rather than introducing more layers of bureaucracy, that will inevitable cause distrust and turn people away.”

Dr. Toby James, University of East Anglia, said:

“There is, a clear risk that introducing voter identification could adversely affect electoral participation.

“Voter ID in Britain therefore needs to be considered cautiously, especially given that there is no evidence that electoral fraud, which voter ID is designed to remedy, is widespread.”

 Letter sent to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution