With the local elections coming up across parts of England, ballot boxes and papers are on lots of people’s minds. After nearly a century of universal suffrage in the UK, voters will now be required to show photographic identification before a ballot paper is issued, for the first time. The rollout of these new laws is to begin in May with local elections, Police and Crime Commissioner elections, UK parliamentary by-elections and recall petitions. This will be rolled out to UK general elections in October.
Data from the Government itself shows that 38% of Asian people, 31% of mixed ethnicity and 48% of black people do not have the right form of ID to vote under this new law.
These laws will stop our most marginalised communities from being able to have their say in how their local area and their country is run.
A recent survey by Redfield and Wilton strategies showed that more than a quarter – 27% – of 1500 voters quizzed online disagreed with the statement “Voters must present photo identification in order to vote”. This demonstrates the lack of knowledge that the UK population has about these laws and the need for the Government and local authorities to do more to educate the electorate. London already has one of the lowest voter registration rates across the UK and figures show that 1 in 10 Londoners are at risk of losing their voice, with underrepresented communities most likely to be at risk.
Joint research by Stonewall and LGBT Foundation found that Voter ID requirements would disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ people. 12% of LGBTQ+ people do not own any usable photo ID, with nearly two in five – 40% – of trans people and more than one third of non-binary individuals having previously experienced problems getting their ID accepted.
Furthermore, an estimated 1.7 million low-income adults across the UK are at risk of losing their democratic voice due to difficulties securing a photo ID.
Young voters will also be disenfranchised by these laws, because whilst many 18–25-year-olds have ID it is not the kind that would be accepted at a polling station. For example, an Oyster 60+ travel card is acceptable but not an Oyster 18+ card, along with university photo ID cards, are excluded from the list.
The Conservative Government simply want to suppress the voices of the most marginalised, rather than admit their party is out of ideas. Whilst we do not have any planned elections here in Islington until May 2024, the impact of these laws on Islington’s diverse communities will almost certainly be felt.
There have only been three convictions of voter impersonation in the past 7 years, and the British electorate have a high level of confidence in how elections in this country are run. Rather than talking about voter fraud as an actual problem because there is nothing to say, Conservative MPs have been found saying that there is always a ‘risk’ of electoral fraud, and that it must be prevented.
This argument is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, it is unnecessary. It is especially worrying when evidence warns that the requirement to have photographic ID could deter more legal votes than the fraudulent ones it aims to prevent.
It is thought that approximately 2 million people in the UK don’t have the appropriate photo ID. Voters without the right form of ID can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate but less than half of those without the correct ID said they would apply. The system for applying for one of these certificates is a challenge for people. The House of Commons’ Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Committee heard recently that electoral administrators face challenges due to the system being ‘far from perfect’ along with recent evidence saying only 63,279 people have applied for one. This is only 3% of people without an ID.
As Islington Labour, we are committed to ensuring that residents are well informed about the changes to how they vote. As a result, we will be running a large information campaign on the doorstep and using social media to encourage residents to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate or a postal vote so that they don’t lose their voice in any upcoming elections. To read more about the new laws, types of ID accepted and to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate read here.
The Conservatives have once again got their priorities completely wrong. There is a national housing shortage, a cost-of-living crisis and NHS waiting times continue to increase – now is the time for action on these issues, not the time for wasting public money on a law that simply isn’t needed. These draconian laws are another example of the Conservatives in Westminster suppressing the voices of the people, and a feeble attempt to cling onto power.