Ealing Liberal Democrat Councillor and spokesperson for caring services, Andrew Steed writes of his concern over plans to introduce photo ID at UK elections.
In the United States several individual states have introduced measures that make it more difficult for certain groups to vote. This has taken the form of making postal voting more difficult, reducing the number of polling stations and making it necessary to provide some photographic ID.
Some of the measures sound reasonable until you realise that these are all Republican initiatives, and the objective is to suppress the turnout of their opponents.
Well, now the UK is going down the same route. The Elections Act 2022 will introduce the requirement to show photo ID at UK Elections – both Parliamentary and local elections.
It sounds quite harmless doesn’t it, asking people to bring some photographic ID along to a polling station. And if there was any evidence that there was widespread voter impersonation in UK elections you might agree to it. However, there is very little proof to support bringing in a measure that will only lead to lower voter turnout. In the 2017 General Election there was one successful prosecution for voter impersonation.
Liberal Democrats say in simple terms there is no problem to solve. Most people involved in politics would rather see measures introduced to increase voter turnout, by giving people a reason to vote and making it easier for people to vote.
So, if there is no need for this new measure who supports the plans? The only people in favour appear to be the Conservative Party, and against the advice of the Electoral Commission they are pushing the measure through in haste to apply at local elections taking place next May.
A whole range of campaign groups and charities oppose the proposal. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation argue it will disenfranchise lower income voters.
Will it save money? No, it is estimated that changing the rules will cost £180 million over the decade, partly because more clerking staff will be required at polling stations. It will actually make the process of voting more difficult. It is likely to lead to confusion and possible disputes at polling stations.
In the few trial cases in 2019, a third of voters who were turned away because they did not have the right ID did not return to vote.
The key fact is that those mostly likely to be affected are the young and the poor. They are less likely to have a passport or a driving license – the most obvious sources of photo ID. In addition, the rules make it acceptable to use a Oyster 60+ card but not similar Young Persons Travel cards, nor University ID cards.
Liberal Democrats say it is difficult to come to any other conclusion that this is a cynical measure introduced to suppress the turnout and therefore the votes of those who do not vote Conservative.