Voter ID pilots deemed ‘a total waste of money’

The Electoral Reform Society has warned that the government’s mandatory voter ID plans could ‘undermine the right to vote’, as 10 councils prepare to turn away those without ID during the impending local elections.

Braintree, Broxtowe, Craven, Derby, Mid-Sussex, North Kesteven, North West Leicestershire, Pendle, Watford, and Woking councils will all require voters to present personal identification before casting their ballot at the polling station on 2 May.

It is reported that approximately 350 people were turned away and didn’t come back to vote in last year’s voter ID trials, raising fears the policy will disenfranchise large numbers of voters if rolled out nationally. It turns out that personation fraud at the polling station accounted for just eight of the 266 allegations made in 2018. No further action was taken for seven of these allegations and one was locally resolved.

The government estimates rolling out voter ID nationally could cost up to £20 million per General Election, causing the Electoral Reform Society to urge the government to abandon the ‘show your papers’ policy, and to instead invest in improving democratic engagement and modernising ‘dangerously outdated’ campaign rules.

Jess Garland, from the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Forcing all voters to show their papers at the polling station is a solution looking for a problem. Across the UK there were just eight allegations of ‘personation’ last year – the type of fraud voter ID is supposed to target. It is time for the government to listen to the evidence.

“As the Electoral Commission have made clear, there is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud in the UK. Yet the government are failing to deal with the real democratic problems we face, from dangerous loopholes allowing foreign donations and interference to worryingly low turnout in council elections. Rather than spending up to £20m per election on making it harder to vote, we should be encouraging participation and ensuring online campaign rules are fit for the 21st century.

“Most electoral offences are committed by parties rather than voters. Yet it is innocent voters who lose out when the government locks ordinary people out of democracy – and millions risk being excluded from our politics because of these plans. The proposed changes to voter ID laws that are being trialled by the government risk further dividing our democracy. Ministers should scrap this costly policy before wasting any more time on this dangerous distraction.”

Cat Smith, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement, commented: “At a time when millions of people are missing from the electoral roll, it takes a special kind of ignorance for the government to be trying to make it harder for people to vote. These voter ID pilots are a total waste of money and will negatively impact ethnic minority communities, older people, disabled people and students. We cannot allow the Tories to undermine our democratic right to vote, which is why we’re calling on the government to abandon these undemocratic and unpopular proposals.”