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Should no ID mean no vote?

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The Government has recently announced that photographic ID, such as driving licenses or passports will be required when voting at elections. The plans have been proposed on the grounds of protecting against election fraud and as a security measure during the voting process. Writers Ben Audsley and Jake Dannatt discuss the necessity and justification of this plan.

Jake Dannatt argues against the use of photo ID when voting:

The government have announced plans to introduce the requirement for voter ID in elections across England, Scotland and Wales. The proposed measure, already existing in Northern Ireland, is aimed to ‘tackle electoral fraud’ and ‘protect our democracy’. However, with electoral fraud being so uncommon in the UK, is this measure really necessary, or is this simply another way that the Tories can reduce the number of disadvantaged voters from turning out in an election?

In countries where electoral fraud is high the use of photo identification can be considered a strong and necessary measure. However, this is not the case in the UK. In the 2017 General Election there was one conviction for electoral fraud and only eight suspects cautioned. That equates to 0.000063% of all votes cast (44.4 million). Furthermore, in 2018 the Electoral Commission found no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud. Anyone with the tiniest bit of common sense can therefore see that in the context of the UK this is an unnecessary issue to be debating. However, the danger with this plan lies not in its unnecessary nature alone, but also in its potential to suppress democracy.

“With an estimated 3.5million eligible voters without any photo ID, this policy targets the poorest members of our society”

Currently, the public must sign up to the electoral register in order to vote in the UK; this requires no proof of ID and keeps the process simple. However, this added layer in the voting process could almost certainly discourage people from turning out on election day. Why? With an estimated 3.5million eligible voters without any photo ID, this policy targets the poorest members of our society, something that the Conservatives practise regularly. Take the USA for example, where Milwaukee, Wisconsin saw the lowest turn out in 20 years after strict ID laws were introduced and approximately 300,000 voters were affected.

Fundamentally, with rates of electoral fraud already being low in the UK, it seems to be an illogical measure to implement, particularly when considering the £20million price tag that each election will carry as a result. Thus, can the proposal for the use of voter ID at elections really be considered necessary or justified, or is it merely a measure used by the Tories to streamline democracy? This is particularly prevelent when considering the millions of Britons whose access to voting will now be inhibited, reducing the number of economically disadvantaged voters from turning out on election day and undermining the voices of millions of Britons.

 

In contrast, Ben Audsley argues in favour of the use of Photo IDs when voting:

The government’s recent proposals laid out in the Queen’s Speech included a pledge to require voters to present photographic ID at voting stations. This has not been accepted with universal acclaim to put it lightly, Jeremy Corbyn arguing that it is an attempt by the government to “rig” the next election and “suppress voters”. In this article, I will argue the case for photo ID.

Most of the criticism that I have seen can be divided into 2 points; firstly, that requiring photographic ID will suppress votes, and secondly, that electoral fraud is not an issue in the UK.

“the government has announced that anybody without photographic ID can apply for free ID”

In light of the first critique, while it is true that poorer voters will be less likely to have a passport (mine has just expired and I’m hesitant to drop £75.50 for a renewal) and that ethnic groups such as Irish Travelers are less likely to have ID, the government has announced that anybody without photographic ID can apply for free ID – similar to what happens in Northern Ireland where this measure is already in place. Furthermore, photo ID was also trialed in local council elections in May 2018 and 99.7% of voters arrived with photographic ID. Therefore, I very much doubt that such a move would rig an election.

“The NGO Democracy Volunteers also raised concerns that multiple voters were entering the same polling booth again and again”

The second criticism, that electoral fraud is not a problem, is also one that I would challenge. A figure repeated on numerous occasions is that in the 2017 General Election there was only 1 conviction of voter fraud.  However, voter fraud is incredibly difficult to catch, nevermind convict someone of. The recent Peterborough by-election caused controversy when Tariq Mahmood, previously jailed in 2008 for rigging postal ballots was found by Times investigators to have helped run the Labour campaign. The NGO Democracy Volunteers also raised concerns that multiple voters were entering the same polling booth again and again. In another case, the mayor of Tower Hamlets was found to have rigged votes and HMICFRS reported multiple failings in the police’s investigation. It was this event that actually led to the government’s current proposals after an investigation into how voting security could be improved in the future.

Therefore, while I do not believe that there is widescale voter fraud in the UK, the potential is there and recent cases are worrying. With countries such as Germany, Italy, and Canada already requiring ID when voting this is hardly an unusual proposal, and it is one that I would argue is necessary.

Last modified: 31st October 2019

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