Millions in UK face disenfranchisement under voter ID plans which could breach human rights law, report warns

'Whilst the Government’s list of acceptable forms of ID has been widely drawn, it is estimated that over 2 million people will not have an acceptable form of ID'

Voting Ballot Box

Over 2 million people could lose the ability to vote as a result of the government’s plans to bring in voter ID, a new report published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned today.

The report, which looked at the government’s Elections Bill and proposals to bring in voter ID also warned that the government must ‘do more to demonstrate the need for voter ID and mitigate the potential barriers to voting its proposals may create’.

The government’s Elections Bill will require individuals to show photographic ID for UK Parliamentary elections in Great Britain, local elections in England, and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales.

The report from the committee on human rights states: “Whilst the Government’s list of acceptable forms of ID has been widely drawn, it is estimated that over 2 million people will not have an acceptable form of ID and so will have to apply for a free voter card or lose the ability to vote at the polling station. These proposals are aiming to reduce fraud at polling stations, however the recorded instances of such fraud are rare.”

The report also warns that the impact of voter ID and potential disenfranchisement will disproportionately affect groups with protected characteristics under human rights law. It also warns that “older people and disabled people are less likely to have photo ID and some groups such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities may be hesitant to apply for the Voter Card”. The committee suggested that the government could massively boost involvement in democracy by introducing automatic voter registration, following Electoral Commission research that up to 9.4m people eligible to vote are not on the electoral roll or are registered at the wrong address.

The committee found that the problem which the measure is designed to address, of people fraudulently passing themselves off as someone else to vote, was “rare”, with only 171 allegations since 2014, leading to nine cautions and three convictions.

Cabinet Office research has also found that 42 percent of those with no photo ID said they were unlikely to apply.

The Electoral Reform Society said that the government had failed to make a credible case for voter ID.

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society said: “The findings of this report should come as no surprise. The cross-party JCHR have come to the same conclusion as many academics, charities and civil society groups in sounding the alarm over the government’s damaging voter ID plans.

“The government have failed to make a credible case that these measures are necessary just as they have failed to take any serious steps to reduce the negative impacts of these dangerous proposals.

“Make no mistake, voter ID will see legitimate voters turned away from the ballot box and, as this report warns, it’s likely to be those already marginalised in society such as the elderly, the disabled and Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

“It’s time for the government to stop and re-think and for MPs from all parties to challenge this costly legislation head on and make sure any reforms of our voting laws are there to strengthen our democracy, not weaken it.”

Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Harriet Harman MP said: “The Government has a duty to ensure everyone can vote and no one prevented from voting by discrimination and also that elections are free from fraud. However current proposals which would prohibit voting without Voter ID may deny the right to vote from large numbers of electors, and could have a discriminatory impact. The Government must explain how these measures are both necessary and proportionate given the low numbers of recorded instances of fraud at polling stations.

“The Government must prove that the need for people to get a Voter ID card does not act as a deterrent to voting. In particular they must demonstrate an understanding, so far lacking, of the impact of these measures on marginalised groups and show how they plan to ensure access to the ballot box for all.”

In response to the report’s findings, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Stealing someone’s vote is stealing their voice. Fraud in our elections is something we cannot allow room for, so we are stamping out potential for it to take place by requiring photographic identification. Voters in Northern Ireland have been using photo identification since 2003. It has been operating with ease for decades and has proven to be effective at tackling fraud and improving voter confidence.

“Our research, which draws on the most comprehensive data to date, shows that 99% of ethnic minorities already have a form of identification, as do 98% of those aged 70 or above. Local authorities will be legally required to provide a free voter card, for the small proportion of people who may not already have photo identification.”

Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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