Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Voter ID

It is interesting to see how the proposals for compulsory ID are unfolding. On the one hand, the point is made that there were only a tiny handful of cases which it might have prevented at the last election; on the other, it is advocated as a measure to prevent the possibility of widespread fraud at a future election. Other countries (and Northern Ireland within the UK) already require it, so what are the problems?

Not Everyone has ID

I used to be at a church in Morecambe, which is quite an economically deprived area. Local agencies regularly encountered people who found engaging with local services very challenging. Applying for what they were entitled to was a big hurdle - due to physical or mental health issues, lack of confidence with literacy, or just a suspicion of authorities, forms and institutions. No doubt quite a lot of them weren't even registered to vote at all, but even if they were (it is a simple form) getting additional ID would be a challenge.

Clergy have to ID people for weddings and also for DBS checks, and sometimes it was quite difficult for people to get the required documents required, so they will need something else for voting. I remember trying to do a DBS for someone who was married with kids, had lived at their address for some time, but they never had a need for a passport or driving licence. We had to scour through bills and other official correspondence to get the right combination of current paperwork even to do a DBS ID check.

The Cost of ID

The cheapest way to get a UK adult passport is online (which means someone needs access to that). Charities (and the library) in Morecambe provided that for people with none, but inevitably it only benefitted people who were aware of the facility and willing to use it. The cost of the cheapest passport is £75-50. Driving licences are cheaper (and even free for a change of details) but driving costs considerably more!

If an ID card of some kind is to be introduced which can serve as voter ID, the process needs to be simple and free if it isn't going to discriminate against people struggling with money - let alone the challenges I mentioned previously. The Northern Ireland card is free, so that sets a precedent. The potential difficulty there is that free schemes can be harder to secure that ones which involve payment and generate an audit trail.

The Electoral Reform Society estimates that the voter ID proposals could cost up to £20 million to implement, and could affect up to 11 million potential voters. Even if those are exaggerated figures, the impact is highly likely to be significant.

The Impact on Voting Trends

One of the key points made by opponents of the voter ID proposals is that Labour tends to be stronger with precisely the people most likely to be disenfranchised by such a system. There were comparable allegations made in the United States about it favouring Republicans. Even if it were unwitting, the proposal is likely to favour Conservative voting at an election. 

Any proposal that is likely to reduce voter numbers is unwelcome; if it favours certain political interests, it is profoundly unjust.

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