British Youth Council Trustee, Larissa Kennedy, comments on the Voter ID pilots undertaken at the Local Elections in 2018.
Throughout history, the power of the vote and, equal access to voting, is something that so many have fought for – with young people being some of those who continue that battle to this day. It seems oxymoronic that, in the year that we are celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to some women, and 90 years since the vote was extended to all women and men over 21, that we are simultaneously putting barriers in the way of people accessing their vote.
The government’s Democratic Engagement Plan should be doing what it says on the tin – engaging people in democracy. And it’s sub heading – ‘Building A Democracy That Works For Everyone’ – is absolutely a principle that we can get behind. But we’re concerned that current actions could actually do the opposite. In May this year there were pilots that require people to produce ID at the polling stations before they could vote in the local elections. In Swindon and Watford, you had to take your poll card to the polling station; in Bromley and Gosport, you needed one piece of photo identification, like a passport or driving licence, or two pieces of non photo ID, such as a recent bank or credit card statement and utility bill of which one must contain your address; and in Woking, you needed photo identification, like a passport, driving licence or senior bus pass.
This is a move to prevent electoral fraud but this doesn’t seem up to add up. An evaluation of this pilot by the Electoral Commission has shown that whilst only three allegations of this type of voter fraud have been made in non-pilot areas, at the same election around 350 people turned up to vote, were turned away for not having the correct ID and did not come back. In Watford there was a correlation between the proportion of a ward’s population that is Asian/British Asian and the number of people who turned up without identification and did not return. And under 35s and people in the lowest social classes (C2DE) were amongst the least likely to have received the messages about the requirement to have ID to be able to vote.
Why the British Youth Council is speaking out on this?
Numerous studies from the US prove that strict rules about voter ID make it harder for marginalised groups to engage with politics – this could further disenfranchise not only young people, but also the elderly, disabled people, trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, and the homeless.
The British Youth Council has always supported young voters. In the past, we’ve run voter registration campaigns because we’re passionate about ensuring that young voters can access their vote. Now, we’re standing in solidarity with the Electoral Reform Society, researchers, and numerous organisations representing marginalised voting communities, including Race On The Agenda, The LGBT Foundation, Liberty and Age UK just to name a few, calling on the government to reconsider this approach.
In all elections and referenda, all eligible people should be able to exercise their democratic right. It is crucial for that we stand up for this right, and the British Youth Council – as always – will continue to fight for young’s voices people to be heard.