Georgia L Gilholy is a Young Voices UK contributor.
This week, MPs and peers approved the Government’s landmark plans to roll out voter ID requirements in time for the May 2023 elections.
Ministers claim these new rules will combat in-person voter fraud, ignoring the fact that this is an almost non-existent issue in Britain.
In the wake of the 2017 general election, England and Wales saw just a single conviction for such fraud, following 28 accusations of the offence.
Impersonation does not much occur in British elections because it is a very risky strategy. With polling stations located a few minutes from most people’s homes, it is even possible that the imposter will be recognised by a volunteer. Strict records are kept of who has turned up to vote, and it is also unlikely that many people go to the effort of in-person electoral fraud because one or two votes are hardly likely to top the balance of the average election result.
The Government has failed to offer a compelling justification for voter ID requirements beyond fearmongering about non-existent fraud. These new guidelines seem to be little more than a rushed attempt to grant themselves a slightly less embarrassing election result by excluding groups more likely to vote for a non-Tory candidate.
It has cited Northern Ireland, where voter ID was rolled out in the early 2000s, as an example of success. While voter ID did come into force in the region without ushering in the end of days, it was inefficient and discriminatory, with the 2003 election seeing 2.3 per cent of its eligible voters being refused their right to cast their ballot after not being able to present the “correct” identification.
The result across Great Britain as a whole could be far more chaotic, with huge implications for an already dwindling public trust in our institutions.
Government research published last spring concluded that four per cent of people across England, Wales, and Scotland did not own eligible photographic identification, meaning that around 1.9 million people are set to be excluded from their right to vote should they not obtain a common form of photo ID such as a passport or driver’s license.
These are documents that can be expensive and stressful to apply for, given immense backlogs and complex countersigning process. Millions of people who do not drive or regularly travel abroad have never needed these forms of ID, and so who can blame them for not owning them?
The restrictions surrounding more minor forms of photo ID are also nonsensical. Some forms of travel pass, such as over-60s bus passes, are eligible, while others, such as a student travel cards, are not.
Almost all forms of valid British ID documents are related to professions or activities that many people simply have no connection to, whether they be tachograph cards, taxi IDs, or firearms certificates.
It thus follows that ID cards, of which there are already several private providers, will likely be rolled out by the government as they seek to smooth over concerns about the millions of people who would otherwise be barred from voting.
Even if such cards were initially offered as an option for people lacking conventional ID, if made popular it would soon be easy for a future administration to make them compulsory.
In a free society, citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty; ID cards would trample on this expected right. The English common law tradition holds that one is free until the law forbids you, while mandatory ID mirrors the incompatible civil law presumption that one is free only if the law explicitly says so.
Mandating individuals to carry evidence of their identity, whether to vote or to simply leave their home, or risk prosecution, would likely eradicate an already beleaguered assumption for all future generations.
The Electoral Commission and Local Government Association have also pleaded with the Government that its planned changes must be postponed until at least after next May’s local elections, it being far too soon to ensure they do not initiate havoc.
These bodies probably anticipate a similar scenario to the 2007 Scottish elections, in which vote counting was paused and 140,000 ballot papers were rejected due to eleventh-hour changes.
Such reforms are also set to haemorrhage more public funds at a time of economic turmoil, with an estimated cost of up to £180m over ten years.
In summary these plans are hasty, pricey, and dishonest about the issue they claim to be tackling. Yet unless Labour were to seriously pledge to rescind the measures, it is likely that we will be stuck with them.