Tonight, MPs will vote on the Government’s Elections Bill. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that this extreme and partisan piece of legislation will undermine the democracy that we take for granted.
The most high-profile part of this bill is the requirement for voters to show photo ID at the polling station in order to vote. To say this is a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ is an understatement. Voter personation (the type of fraud which voter ID tackles) is not an issue in the UK: In 2019, a year with a high turnout general election, the UK saw just one conviction for impersonation out of over 59 million votes.
And three and a half million citizens – 7.5% of the electorate – do not have access to any form of voter ID. The government says that they will be able to apply for a voter card, but we know not everyone will, and this is an additional bureaucratic burden and cost for local authorities.
The government piloted mandatory voter ID in a handful of local authorities during the 2018 and 2019 local elections in England. These limited trials took place only during low-turnout local elections, and photo ID was only trialled in one local authority of the type envisaged in the Bill. No pilots took place during the 2019 General Election, nor in Scotland or Wales. The 2018 voter ID pilots saw more than 1,000 voters being turned away for not having the correct form of ID – of these, around 350 voters did not return to vote (32.6% of those turned away). In 2019, around 2,000 people were initially refused a ballot paper, of which roughly 750 did not return with ID and did not therefore take part in the election (around 37% of those turned away).
According to the Electoral Reform Society, across both sets of pilots, more than 1,000 people were effectively denied a vote due to lack of ID, in just a handful of council areas – spread over a general election, this could lead to hundreds of thousands of voters being turned away. I believe these measures are an extreme overreaction to a handful of cases of fraud over the last few years and will disproportionately disenfranchise older voters, people from ethnic minorities and working class people.
Beyond the Voter ID proposals, the Government have included measures in the bill to make it easier for overseas donors and non-domiciled nationals to donate to political parties and to allow a change in the voting systems in mayoral elections from supplementary vote to first past the post, both of which are very likely to benefit the Conservative Party.
Finally, the Bill undermines the independence of the Electoral Commission by allowing the Government to set its strategy and policy. I do not believe any Government should be able to dictate the priorities of an independent watchdog– yet these proposals will allow the Tories to set the agenda of the Electoral Commission. This is yet another attempt by the Conservatives to rig democracy in their favour.
With mounting opposition to the Government’s discriminatory voter ID plans, the Tories are weakening the pillars of our democracy to silence scrutiny. Seen alongside their call for the complete abolition of the Electoral Commission, this is just one part of a concerted strategy by the Tories to remove scrutiny and proper accountability.
The Government claim this Bill is about bringing our democracy into the modern age but in reality, it is nothing more than a naked attempt to rig the system in favour of the Tories. I will be voting against it tonight.