Plans for identification to be used on election days to combat voter fraud, as suggested in a Government response to a review by former Communities Secretary, Sir Eric Pickles, have drawn negative attention over the past day – and rightfully so. Among the 50 recommendations he makes to Government, the suggestion is that the electorate should produce at polling stations:
“…possible ways for voters to prove their identity, which includes providing their date of birth, national insurance number or signature, or producing photographic or non-photographic ID.”
Of course, everybody receives a National Identity Card at the age of 16, which features a unique alphanumeric string. However, it states that it is not proof of identity. The number is of course also used by employers for tax purposes, DWP for social security, as well as a number of other instances. But it’s far from a reliable way to prove an individual’s identity – without formal photo ID, accepting letters containing NI numbers, or Sir Eric’s other suggestion – utility bills – opens up the system. In others words, photo ID would have to be the only option.
Which is a major issue.
Such measures are being promoted as a way to combat voter fraud, but as has already been seen in US states where photo ID verification at the polling booth is used, they actually suppress the vote. Not only that, but the suppression is skewed against those who do not have photo ID – the poor. Of course, such a demographic isn’t the natural home of much Conservative support, but rather the Labour Party (it could be suggested that some of that demographic may these days be more likely to vote UKIP, so for the Tories it’s a win-win situation).
An overwhelming majority of eligible voting-age adults living in the UK do have photo ID, whether that’s a passport or a driving licence (provisional or full) but what of the remaining percentage who have neither? There are some people online who suggest that the relatively small minority should just apply for one or the other. However, if you’re living close to or below the poverty line, or are one of Downing Street’s ‘JAMs’, then spending £72.50 on an official document just to fulfil your right to vote isn’t necessarily going to be the priority. And that’s assuming you have copies of your birth certificate (£9.25) and, if you’re born after 1983, the birth certificate of one of your parents (and another £9.25).
Another suggestion in the report is to allow bank cards as proof of identity, but again, there are some who simply do not have a bank account. While the number of eligible voters who have neither photo ID or a bank account may be minuscule, the fact is that they shouldn’t be punished and have their democratic right to vote taken away because of circumstance.
The Government has selected 18 council areas in England where a voter ID trial will take place. Of those, only three are Conservative controlled with most of the rest in the hands of Labour. To say this report has a whiff of the party political about it, is an understatement.
Furthermore, the idea that electoral fraud is an issue in UK politics at all is ridiculous at best. The Electoral Commission has cited police data that reveals of the ~51.4 million ballot papers cast during the 2015 election (which included parliamentary, local, and mayoral elections) there were only 481 cases of alleged fraud recorded. That’s one recorded allegation for every 106,860 ballots cast. Of those 481 allegations, no further action was taken by police in 312 cases. 34 are either under investigation or awaiting prosecution advice, while 31 resulted in a conviction.
That’s correct, just 31 cases of election fraud out of 51.4 million ballots cast. It’s negligible, and further underlines the argument that the review and future action to pursue voter ID on election days is nothing more than a way for the Conservative Party to stack the dice in its favour in the same way constituency boundaries are being looked at.
As such, it can be considered an attack on British democracy and must be fought against by the opposition parties.