07 Sep Voice4Change England Believes the Government is Disenfranchising Millions of Voters From Exercising Their Right to Vote
PRESS RELEASE. For immediate release: 7th September 2021
Voice4Change England is disappointed that the government has chosen to persist with its plans to require voters to show an approved form of photographic ID at polling stations in UK parliamentary elections in Great Britain and local elections in England. Given the content and substance of the second reading delivered today by Chloe Smith, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution, we are deeply concerned about the democratic deficit that this proposed new legislation would cause. The government calls into question the integrity of the electoral process, but there is no evidence to support the government’s claims of widespread electoral fraud. The government should instead endeavour to extend enfranchisement, not put up more barriers for people seeking to exercise their suffrage.
Access to Photographic ID
- Possession of ID is not universal: research by the Electoral Commission shows that around 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) do not have access to photo ID. If voter identification requirements were restricted to passports or driving licences, around 11 million citizens (24% of the electorate) could potentially be disenfranchised.
- Members of marginalised groups are less likely to have ID: women, those living in urban areas, and people under 20 and over 65 are less likely to hold a driving licence. Since the 1990s, possession of a driving licence has dropped by 40% among under-20s, making it a poor basis for a voter ID policy. A recent survey by the Department for Transport found that only 52% of the Black population hold a driving licence, compared with 76% of the white population.
- Analysis by Professor Chris Hanretty and Financial Times journalist John Burn-Murdoch suggests that there is a strong association between the possession of a driving licence and voting patterns: those without a licence were more likely to report voting Labour (57%) than Conservative (27%) at the 2017 general election.
- Claims that the UK electoral system is vulnerable to widespread electoral fraud due to personation are, to put it simply, just not supported by the evidence. Year on year, the Electoral Commission reports a number of cases which are so low as to be immaterial. Though these cases in isolation are concerning, the existing legal framework enables the Commission to resolve them effectively, e.g., by issuing fines (to a maximum of £20,000).
- There are concerns around the expense of introducing mandatory ID, at a cost of up to £20 million per election – and at a time when the government’s fiscal priorities should be focused on Covid-19 recovery. Furthermore, in a BMG poll, voter ID ranked second to last (out of 12 factors) in terms of people’s priorities for democracy. It would be fair to deduce from the British public’s attitudes that they would prefer to see these resources allocated to cash-stricken and over-stretched frontline services.
- In a vibrant civil society, it is incumbent on the government to endeavour to increase political participation by expanding voters’ rights. The US case rightly highlights that the introduction of voter ID legislation reduced voter participation, and it is suggested that this was disproportionately high among racial and ethnic minority groups. Attempting to impose more barriers to entry will only cause a groundswell of political apathy, and it will serve to disenfranchise those wanting to exercise their suffrage who will now not have the means to do so. This, in conjunction with the upcoming 2023 boundary review, translates into a partisan dilution of democracy. The government should instead look to address the fact that millions of people are left off the electoral register, to review anachronistic campaign laws and to empower the Electoral Commission with investigatory powers comparable to those of the Information Commissioner’s Office to tackle the new battleground of digital campaigning.
- In the recent Queen’s Speech, Woking was emphasised as a success story. It piloted photographic ID in both 2018 and 2019, and 99.9% of people who attended a polling station in 2019 were able to show the right photographic ID and were issued with a ballot paper. The population in Woking is 83.6% white; it would be interesting to see if these results would be replicated in a place like Willesden Green, where the population is 52.7% BAME. When there could be an undemocratic and discriminatory impact of mandating voter ID at elections – as there has been in the US – it is disappointing that the choice of location for these pilot studies was a missed opportunity to assuage these concerns.
- The bigger story is that 19 million citizens are still not on the parliamentary electoral register. The government’s efforts should be directed towards extending suffrage to those who are not presently able to cast a ballot. We should therefore be considering provisions like election-day registration, automatic voter registration, early in-person voting and weekend elections. Furthermore, there should be a concerted push to diversify the electoral register, as currently a quarter of Black and Asian people are not registered to vote: Electoral Commission data shows that 25% of Black voters, 24% of Asian voters and almost a third (31%) of eligible people with mixed ethnicity in Great Britain are not yet registered, compared with a 17% average across the population.
Kunle Olulode MBE, Director of V4CE, commented:
“Voice4Change England is deeply concerned with the government’s decision to go ahead with the legislation in its current form. We are troubled by the discriminatory impact that the requirement to have a form of photographic ID will have on citizens’ ability to vote. The evidence base the government has pointed to for having a UK electoral system that has ‘widespread electoral fraud’ simply is not material enough to make these wholesale changes. At a time when there are still 9 million people who are not currently on the electoral register – and of those 25% of Black voters, 24% of Asian voters and almost a third (31%) of eligible people with mixed ethnicity in Great Britain not yet registered, compared with a 17% average across the population, it should be incumbent on the government to remove barriers not put even more up.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
Voice4Change England will be holding a Voter ID workshop event in October as an opportunity to address the constitutional questions that arise from the implementation of Voter ID regulations. V4CE views this as a bipartisan issue whereby we can all stand united in our determination to provide effective opposition to this impending legislation.
V4CE has produced a Voter ID position paper (see links below) which we have disseminated to our membership to increase the public consciousness around the issue. We have also made a parliamentary submission to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Elections Bill and made a Joint Submission Document which was led by Unlock Democracy.
Quoted sources from this press release are available to view in this PDF.
ABOUT VOICE4CHANGE ENGLAND
Voice4Change England (V4CE) is a national advocate for the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voluntary and community sector (BAME VCS). As the leading national membership organisation dedicated to the BAME VCS we speak up to policymakers on the issues that matter to the sector, bring the sector together to share good practice and develop the sector to better meet the needs of communities. BAME voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) are a crucial part of civil society. By supporting the BAME VCS we aim to improve the life outcomes for BAME and other disadvantaged communities.
- Increase the involvement of the BAME VCS in decision making
- Increase awareness of the BAME VCS’ impact and value
- Improve the capacity of VCOs to meet the needs of BME and other disadvantaged communities
Visit website: voice4change-england.com
Kunle Olulode MBE, Director of V4CE: Kunle@voice4change-england.co.uk
Katrina Hinrichsen, Acting Head of Marketing & Communications: Katrina@voice4change-england.co.uk