For the first time ever, voters were required to present an accepted form of photographic identification before being issued with their ballot paper in local elections in England on 4th May 2023.
The new law was first proposed to Parliament by Boris Johnson in 2021. Downing Street said that voter ID was intended to prevent potential election fraud, specifically personation. Personation is where someone pretends to be someone else in order to exercise that person’s right to vote. This deprives the true elector of their vote and allows the fraudulent elector to (in effect) vote more than once.
However, many have said that the problem it is designed to solve isn’t really a problem. For example, in the last 7 years only 3 people have been convicted for personation in polling stations in the UK.
This is supported by the report conducted by the APPG on Democracy and the Constitution (a cross party group which aims to improve parliamentary and public understanding of democratic and constitutional issues and to enhance the UK’s democratic constitution) which found that “the current voter-ID system is, as it stands, a poisoned cure” in that it disenfranchises more electors than it protects to the extent that it could affect electoral outcomes.
Data shows that while trying to prevent in person personation (which occurs on average 0.88 times per year), the effect of voter ID was to deny at least 14,000 people the opportunity to cast their ballot because they did not have an accepted form of Voter ID. Therefore, on average, the voter ID law currently denies more than 14,000 people their right to vote for every one instance of personation prevented. The report calls this “unacceptable” and “unjustifiable”.
Furthermore, the report found that people from traditionally marginalised communities were more likely to be impacted by the new voter ID requirement. This includes those with a disability, people from ethnic minority communities, people who are unemployed, younger voters (those aged 18-34), renters and people with lower levels of education. Issues include:
- Being less likely to have an accepted form of voter ID
- Being more likely to give an ID reason for not voting
- Being less likely to return if they had gone to a polling station but were unable to vote because they did not have the correct ID
- Being likely to have heard nothing at all about the new voter ID requirement
- A higher proportion of people from some of these groups being turned away at polling stations
For example the report states that a disproportionate number of electors who weren’t permitted to vote appeared to be non-white passing whereas all of those who were observed being permitted to vote without presenting voter ID were white-passing. Those who presented approved forms of ID but weren’t permitted to vote tended to involve forms of ID, such as passports, from majority non-white countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.
As a member of the British Youth Council’s Votes at 16 Youth Action Group I believe that everyone, regardless of age, class, disability, or ethnicity, deserves the right to have their voices heard and one of the best ways to get our voices heard in democracy is through the vote.
Within our Votes at 16 manifesto launched earlier this year, we had concerns about the voter ID requirements. Firstly, we feared the possibility of being turned away at the polling station. Secondly, we were concerned that the young persons’ railcards, such as the Oyster 18+, or student cards are not a valid form of ID for voting, whilst older people’s bus passes and Oyster 60+ cards are. This discrepancy puts young voters at a disadvantage. As a result, it is our recommendation to remove the photographic voter ID requirements in all elections.
I think it is clear that voter ID will continue to be an issue for forthcoming elections because whether designed to be or not the fact is, it is a barrier to voting; a barrier to getting your voice heard. And whilst it affects certain groups disproportionately such as minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities and young people, it is something that affects every single person in the UK going to vote. Voter ID is weakening our democracy and it needs to change.