Tory ‘voter ID’ laws would stop millions voting. How democratic!

Four reasons why the government's plans are bad news


In true festive spirit, the government chose December 27 to respond to former local government minister Eric Pickles’ proposals to tackle alleged voter fraud in UK elections. Sadly, the response isn’t much of a belated Christmas present for our poorly balanced democracy.

Let’s start with a bit of context. In August, Sir Pickles’s report, Securing the ballot: review into electoral fraudwas released. It was commissioned after an election court judgement in 2015 which barred the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, for a number of illegal practices.

It was a shocking case, but whether it alone justified the report’s 50 recommendations for the whole of the UK – including the introduction of mandatory voter ID – is another question. More importantly though, it was shocking because it was rare, and it was dealt with effectively through existing British law.

Now the government have published their response. The main story is that in the 2018 local elections, it will be compulsory to bring ID to the polling station in a number of areas across England. (Scotland and Wales will soon have control over electoral practice and registration.)

There are a large number of reasons why this is a bad idea. Here are a few for starters:

  1. This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Pickles’s report drew largely on anecdote and self-professed claims to have witnessed (or even just heard about) electoral fraud.

Almost none of those claims were tested in a court, but they are now being used as grounds for a major change to the nature and accessibility of voting in Britain.

  1. This will almost certainly hit voter participation. What voter ID represents is a barrier to engagement – if you don’t have the ID, or even just forget it on the day, you can’t vote.

In doing so it makes politics less accessible to those already most excluded, since it is often the most marginalised who have no photo ID.

It penalises the many for the alleged actions of a few. A large number of honest voters will be put off voting through these measures. There’s evidence that strict voter ID rules in some US states disproportionately disadvantages ethnic minority voters and already-marginalised groups.

  1. Even before it’s begun, millions have been written off from voting. 3.5 million electors – 7.5 per cent of the electorate – have no acceptable piece of photo ID, according to the Electoral Commission.

Because photo ID would be required for any anti-fraud proposals to be the most secure, that’s a big chunk of the electorate written off.

Since the government appear to have no plans to introduce a new (and low-cost/free universal ID card scheme), it either forces everyone to buy a passport or provisional driving license (£72.50 or £34 respectively), or they simply won’t (be able to) vote. Of course, you could allow other forms of ID…but…

  1. Even the ‘soft’ version of these plans would do more harm than good. Think about it: if you mandate that everyone must bring either the above ID or a utility bill (something which will be piloted), those who actually want to defraud the political system will opt for the latter.

It should be obvious to say, but utility bills are highly forgeable. If you have basic Word skills you can forge them. So, if you don’t require photo ID and allow instead utility bills, then – excuse the pun – these plans are barely worth the paper they’re written on.

Literally all you are doing it putting a pointless barrier up to the vast majority of the electorate who are honest voters.

None of this is to go into the other plans the government have regarding postal voting, changing the deadline on proxy vote applications, the possibility of setting up police cordons sanitaire around polling stations, or making it much easier to challenge election results.

But the voter ID plan is the one which will have the biggest – and potentially the most democratically detrimental – impact.

258 MILLION votes have been cast in the UK since 2009, and 55 million this year alone. There is scant evidence that more than a tiny fraction of those millions of votes were cast fraudulently. And no one is claiming that election results would be any different if these recommendations had been in place before.

So the government needs to think very carefully before using an extremely blunt instrument to deal with a complex and varied issue – and one that can likely be tackled by properly funding, training and advising Electoral Returning Officers, election observers, and fraud investigation teams on all this.

While voter ID might sound like an easy option, raising barriers to voting is rarely something to be welcomed, particularly in our already less-than-perfect democracy. Now put that sledgehammer away…

Josiah Mortimer is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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13 Responses to “Tory ‘voter ID’ laws would stop millions voting. How democratic!”

  1. NHSGP


    You have one of Corbyn’s inner circle with a conviction for voter fraud.

    Marsha-Jane Thompson has election fraud conviction for registering more than 100 fake voters

  2. Michael WALKER

    Typical. A Labour supporting site protests there is no electoral fraud.

    Meanwhile there is a long list of cases which are not “alleged” but real.

    ” There is scant evidence that more than a tiny fraction of those millions of votes were cast fraudulently” If we follow that logical train, murder rates are low so let’s not bother investigating them with specialists.

  3. Anon

    Interesting that the thug progressives would have the people of this country fingerprinted, DNA-databased, and monitored for any sign of thought crime or hate speech – and yet when it comes to voters proving who they are come polling day, the statists are against it.

    Our elections are now a farce – and Labour are hugely responsible for that state of affairs; one would think that they wish electoral fraud to continue – I wonder why.

  4. Iynne

    Scared after the Brexit they don’t want marginalized people to vote. Curious how the Brexit vote was attributed to poor and marginalized.

  5. GodfreyR

    Voter fraud is a major problem in inner-city constituencies and has to be dealt with.

    It is no coincidence that our long-standing system based on trust has been corrupted in recent decades.

  6. Cole

    Funny how the right wingers here claim there’s massive fraud but don’t provide any evidence.

    Of course they just want to stop people who are unlikely to back right wing parties from voting. That’s the whole point.

  7. Hilmon

    Of course it is reasonable. It would also be reasonable to use an algorithm to filter out either the poor or the filthy rich, depending on who owns the algorithm. Supermarkets can do it. Democracy subject to algorithm is the way forward.

  8. Michael WALKER

    Cole said “Funny how the right wingers here claim there’s massive fraud but don’t provide any evidence.”

    Because anyone with any common sense can use google and find:
    “First, there is no doubt that in some areas of England there is a history of
    concerns about fraud, and in some cases fraud has been attempted and

    The Electoral Commission

    You have just admitted you are in denial.. which is fairly typical of people who support fraud.

  9. Andrew hennager

    At the last general election 75% of votes were wasted anyway, and the handful of fraudulent cases were not enough to alter the outcome. This is just to disenfranchise people who can’t afford to spend £80 on a passport (ie labour voters). We are edging closer to a dictatorship.

  10. andrew hennager

    Why should I lose my vote just because of negligible fraud levels?

  11. Martyn

    Not much to say about mis-reporting expenditure, or. The use of campaign websites set up in the US. I notice.

  12. Cole

    We all know that the number of fraud cases is tiny, and that the Electoral Commission doesn’t back compulsory voter ID.

    It’s just a ploy by the Tories to exclude people who won’t voters for them. It’s straight out of the U.S. republicans’ handbook. It’s straight partisan politics a da n attempt to undermine democracy. Period.

  13. Charlotte lythe

    Are citizens cards are usable for id and can i use then anytime i like thank you and can i use it day and night times

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