It was announced late last year that five localities in the UK would pilot a mandatory voter ID scheme. The scheme will require all voters to provide ID before they can cast their ballot. The trial will affect voters in Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking, as early as May 2018 for the local elections.
Yet an open letter challenges the scheme, arguing that it is a disproportionate measure to tackle electoral fraud, and risks turning people away from the polls.
The Electoral Reform Society has organised more than 40 civil society organisations and academics to oppose the scheme in an “unprecedented coalition.” The signatories, including MRN, “are concerned that mandatory voter ID would damage turnout and undermine engagement among already disadvantaged and excluded groups – and worry the trials are a fait accompli for a national roll-out.”
The letter, sent to Minister for the Constitution Chloe Smith MP, notes that only 28 cases of electoral fraud were confirmed by the Electoral Commission for the last elections, while 3.5 million people in Britain – 7.5% of the electorate – do not have access to any form of photo ID.
The letter adds:
We are also very concerned about the low levels of public awareness of the pilots and proposed reforms. We fear that many people will be unaware of changes to the voting process. To ensure that voters are not disenfranchised, it is vital that there is wide coverage of the new voting arrangements and that communications are accessible to everyone. Unfortunately there is little evidence to suggest that this has taken place in the various pilot areas even though the elections are now only two months away.
Paul Twocock, head of campaigns for Stonewall UK, emphasises that “getting access to approved ID can be difficult for minority groups, including trans and non-binary, BAME, disabled and homeless people. For a homeless person who’s lost their ID, applying for and being able to afford new ID is very hard.”
MRN is particularly concerned that migrants, amongst other marginalised groups, will be strongly affected.