Proposed Voter ID Laws Could Disenfranchise the UK’s Poor

The UK has announced that in 2018 it will trial requiring individuals to present passports or other identification documents in order to vote. While government officials claim that the move is necessary to prevent voter fraud, civil rights groups warn that this policy could disenfranchise poorer and foreign born voters.

The BBC reports:

Constitution minister Chris Skidmore said fraud of any kind was unacceptable and dismissed suggestions that the plans, which could be rolled out across the whole country if successful, could disenfranchise poor people who do not have ID.

He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “Voting is one of the most important transactions you can make as an individual. In many transactions you need a proof of ID.”

“I’m determined to ensure, when it comes to groups who are under-registered, that they get the opportunity to exercise their vote,” he added.

“Ensuring those communities are protected, that the risks of electoral fraud are diminished, will ensure those individuals are represented fairly across this country.”

While Northern Ireland requires identification to vote, the current process in much of the UK relies on polling station personnel to report any suspicious activity and later analyses to verify that no violations can be found in the polling data.

The government argues that voter ID legislation does not add extra barriers to the process and will simply safeguard the integrity of the system. Proponents of the policy point out that much of Europe already carries these requirements, so this is not an unprecedented change.

The plans, which have not yet been fully disclosed, would involve a number of boroughs testing out different ID-to-vote schemes. While a full list of pilot-regions has not yet been issued, it appears the government is targeting areas with higher percentages of immigrant families — among them, Bradford and Birmingham — as well as other areas that have been labeled susceptible to voter fraud by previous reports. 

The government maintains that voter fraud may come about due to foreign-born voters who do not understand the voting process and, as a result, may hand over their vote to others. While this act may be done in good faith, it diminishes the power of the voting system — and could leave the process open to abuse.

However, critics suggest that this is yet another example of the government’s attack on immigrant families. They charge that there is absolutely no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Many of the policy’s opponents maintain that this change will suppress poor and immigrant families with intimidation and dissuade them from voting. They also point out that requiring a passport to vote would create a financial barrier — upwards of £72 – if the person does not already have a passport of their own.

Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement, Cat Smith explained:

Labour supports measures to tackle electoral fraud and will be backing a number of the reasonable proposals planned by the government. However, requiring voters to produce specific forms of photo ID risks denying millions of electors a vote. A year ago the Electoral Commission reported that 3.5 million electors – 7.5% of the electorate – would have no acceptable piece of photo ID. Under the government’s proposals, these voters would either be denied a vote entirely, or in other trial areas, required to produce multiple pieces of ID, ‘one from group A, one from group B’.

Is this proposal an attack on the poor and immigrant families?

At the moment, it’s hard to determine the true impact of these plans.

On the one hand, ministers contend that many people actually elect to present a form of ID when they go to the polls: their polling cards. These cards are issued to every household to tell them the details of voting day, and many individuals carry their name and address on them.

Of course, this isn’t a foolproof piece of identification, but some supporters of the move insist that a voting card with a passport-style photo would not seem unreasonable — especially given that existing polling cards show that the change could be implemented with little fuss.

The main point of contention here is that the government has not proved there is a need for this approach. As mentioned by the Labour minister above, voter fraud is not common, so why make such a fundamental change to the voting system?

Sadly, we cannot analyze this debate without also acknowledging the wider context of the government’s approach to foreign-born nationals.

For example, despite the relatively low impact of so-called NHS fraud, the government is considering requiring ID for those seeking to receive healthcare. The Conservative government has also made clear its strident opposition to taking in refugees, and a wider anti-immigrant feeling was highlighted during the Brexit vote.

We also can’t ignore the concern that Conservatives might benefit most from creating barriers to voting among the poor. The Party has always found its support among the wealthy and middle class, groups that are unlikely to have any problem with such voter ID proposals.

Given the existing information on the policy, the change may seem innocuous — and even a smart move to ensure the integrity of the voting process. However, when considering the government’s other legislation, including a proposal to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, a larger and more problematic picture begins to emerge — one that systematically reshapes the broader civil rights landscape.

That, in and of itself, should be enough to make concerned individuals ask serious questions about why the UK government supports such a large — and potentially antagonistic — change to the bedrock principle of voter freedom.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

64 comments

Berny p
berny p2 years ago

YOU dont have a valid ID...you dont vote...AGREE 100% with this...BUT then...there will always be people who will find any excuse for the illegals!

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Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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John W
John W2 years ago

Well said Bernie

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John W
John W2 years ago

It's about time we had voter ID here in the UK.It won't harm the poor as you need photo ID to open a bank account (which you have to have in the UK to get benefits) or get a job.

This article is full of the same lies they made up in the USA.
In Mexico, they have far stricter ID laws than are being proposed here in the UK or America!

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Simon L
Simon L2 years ago

ty

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Tin Ling L
Tin Ling L2 years ago

tks

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Chun Lai T
Chun Lai T2 years ago

Thanks for the info

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Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C2 years ago

ty

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Berny p
berny p2 years ago

YOU dont have a valid ID...you dont vote...AGREE 100% with this...BUT then...there will always be people who will find any excuse for the illegals!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld2 years ago

Carole,
Agreed. We have required ID for voting for years now, without any problems.

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