The Speaker
Thursday, 13 June 2024 – 04:58

Voter ID is a disaster for UK democracy.

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

As from the 4th of May 2023, voters in England will need to show some form of photo ID or present a Voter ID, to vote in most elections, and by October 2023 photo ID will also be required to vote in General Elections. This law is outlined in the Elections Act 2022, which was introduced by Johnson’s government. It was formally passed to become law on 28th April 2022 and is now being carried forward by Sunak. When this law was announced by the government, Matt Hancock described it as a way to ensure ‘fairness’ in UK democracy and elections while being well aware of the statistics that stated only six cases of voter fraud occurred in the previous 2019 election.

Voter fraud is simply not a problem in the UK

A conspiracy to substantially influence a general election would be a massive task. There are thousands of polling stations in the UK, each filled with staff and members of each party who have a stake in the election and oversee the whole process. The scale of a conspiracy to coordinate a meaningful attack on UK elections would cost a lot of money and involve many people making it highly unlikely that it could remain a secret.

So if election fraud is simply not a problem, why is the government spending all this time and money to introduce voter ID? The simple answer is I don’t know; but we can look at the effects of this legislation, and maybe, in that, lies the answer.

It is estimated that around 2 million people do not have sufficient ID to be allowed to vote; to overcome this, the government is introducing a voter ID for people to present at polling stations to allow them to vote. However, a Guardian report suggests that the system set in place by the government may not be ready in time for the Local Elections in May, leaving millions of people unable to vote. The Elections Commission has warned that the rollout timetable is so compressed that elections cannot be conducted properly.

Critics suggest that when the law is set in motion, it would risk “decades of democratic progress” going into reverse. A report by Stonewall suggests that disabled people, people from black and ethnic minority communities, and the homeless are more likely to face increased barriers in voting leading to many people simply being unable to vote at all. The elderly will be massively affected too, many of whom may simply not understand how to go about obtaining a voter ID. The report by Stonewall also reveals that this law will affect trans and non-binary people disproportionately. 38% of trans people and 35% of non-binary people do not have a usable ID, and 96% of trans and non-binary people have faced obstacles in gaining any form of ID at all.

The draconian process of gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate to simply have one’s gender identity amended on a piece of paper or on an ID can take years. The average wait to simply get an appointment at a gender dysphoria clinic is 18 months and the process is complex, expensive, and unnecessarily invasive. Scotland has put in place laws to amend this, but they have been blocked by the UK government.

In 2018 trials for voter ID were conducted across five councils and twice as many people could not vote in a single day than were accused of personation in eight years across the UK. Personation being someone pretending to be someone else in order to vote.

But there is a whole other side to this; the monetary cost of implementing all these new systems. Local councils are the ones who will have to foot the bill for all of this, not just the money but the extra work hours to provide people with voter ID. A report by the Electoral Reform Society has concluded, using the government’s own figures, that the cost of this will be an extra £180,000,000 every decade.

It is not like the government will be providing sufficient funds to deal with the extra costs. A report in 2019 by Cities Outlook saw that local governments bore the brunt of the 10 years of Conservative austerity, with budgets being cut by over half at austerity’s peaks. The report concludes that urban areas, particularly in the north, were hit the hardest and with the poorest in society living in cities, it has affected them the most. 

The worst is not over yet, as the cost of living crisis and Conservative apathy to properly fund councils and front line services is likely to get worse. Lack of funding will lead to councils being overwhelmed by the increased workload of processing voter ID requests, leaving people who could have voted unable to do so.

Further evidence of this is that many local councils have reported that they are facing an existential crisis in funding. A funding shortfall that could reach £4.5 billion by 2025. James Jamison, the chair of the Local Government Association, has reported that this funding black hole will lead to local governments being forced to cut funding for elderly social care, homeless prevention, child protection and even bin collections.

Matt Hancock stated that the implementation of this law would be to ensure fairness in our democracy. It is evident that the effects of this legislation will be the reverse of that. As I stated previously, people from black and ethnic minority communities are more likely to be affected by this legislation than white people; only 20% of people from these groups voted Conservative, while 64% voted for Labour in the 2019 General Election. 

As evident fairness is not a facet of this legislation, could the government’s real reason be an attempt to disenfranchise those unlikely to vote for them in the next election? Who knows; all we do know is that millions of people could well be unable to vote at the next general election due to the Conservatives implementation of The Elections Act 2022.

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