The writer is MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood
In the Queen’s Speech this week, the government formally announced its plans to introduce mandatory voter identification at the next election. This policy requires voters to present photo IDs at polling stations, threatening to bar millions of people from exercising their democratic right at massive cost to the taxpayer.
While the government claims it is restoring “integrity” to our electoral system by tackling voter fraud, the fact of the matter is voter fraud by “personation” is a vanishingly rare offence. Evidence collected over recent election cycles makes that fact clear.
In 2017 there were 28 allegations of personation, resulting in a single conviction. In 2019, a year with a turnout of 59m across general, local and European elections, there was just one conviction for the same offence. You are more likely to win this weekend’s lottery than be impersonated at an election.
In reality, this policy is not a reasonable response, but instead an incredibly expensive bid by the government to suppress voters that is right out of the US Republican party playbook. The clue is in the name; the voter ID laws passed recently in the state of Georgia are named the Election Integrity Act. I wonder where the Conservatives got their blueprint for the electoral integrity bill.
While many of us carry identification as a normal part of life, a significant number of people in the UK don’t. Three and a half million people — 7.4 per cent of the electorate — do not carry any form of photo ID and would be prevented from voting when these plans are introduced. Through this single policy, the government risks disenfranchising millions.
We cannot ignore the disproportionate impact voter ID will have on black, Asian and ethnic minority voters, who are statistically less likely to possess photo ID. A survey by the Department for Transport found that 76 per cent of the white population hold a driving licence, compared with 53 per cent of the black population — a group that already feels they face barriers when participating politically.
Numerous leading civil rights groups including Stonewall, Liberty, the Electoral Reform Society, Operation Black Vote and Silver Voices have publicly condemned voter ID as a “dangerous distraction” that could lock out millions from voting.
Yet the government seems intent on going ahead with plans they cannot justify. Voter ID will come at an enormous cost to the taxpayer. The Electoral Reform Society estimates the change will cost up to £20m per election.
The government’s priorities are clear. As we begin to emerge from over a year of national crisis and hardship, it is startling to see a Queen’s Speech that makes relatively little reference to the social care crisis. Instead, millions of pounds are being committed to tackling a non-existent crime. Yet again, the government is failing key workers and young people, neglecting to fund vital services or offer pay increases.
Last week’s local elections again highlighted the trend of reduced voter turnout come election day. The government should be taking this opportunity to encourage political participation, particularly in historically disengaged communities.
We must be clear on this: our electoral system is safe and secure. Ministers should be promoting confidence in the system instead of spreading baseless scare stories which threaten to reverse decades of democratic progress. The Conservatives need to urgently rethink this pointless policy.