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Press Release – Voter ID: 17 leading civil society groups unite to call for ‘dangerous’ plans to be dropped

Press Release – Voter ID: 17 leading civil society groups unite to call for ‘dangerous’ plans to be dropped

Categories: Latest News

Monday May 17 2021

Leading UK civil society groups have united to challenge plans to block those without ID from voting, in a landmark joint statement. 

Groups including Stonewall, Liberty, ERS, Operation Black Vote, NUS, Silver Voices and more say the government’s proposals for mandatory voter ID are a ‘dangerous distraction’ that will ‘bring up the drawbridge to millions of ordinary voters’. 

The plans, which will cost up to £20m per general election to implement [1], could affect 3.5m people who lack photo ID [2], while making it harder for everyone to vote.  

The proposals have been widely condemned, by figures ranging from leading Conservatives David Davis MP and former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, as well as almost all opposition parties. 

See full statement below [embargoed 00:01 14th May] 

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Figures across the political spectrum and civil society are rightly standing up to these costly and undemocratic plans. When millions of people lack photo ID, these proposals would make it harder to vote.  

“They risk disenfranchising a huge swathe of the public – which is why groups representing a wide range of society are sounding the alarm. Instead of spending millions of pounds each election to lock down our polling stations, we should be closing the democratic divide and boosting political engagement. This coalition has one clear message to ministers: rethink this warped priority and scrap this dangerous ID policy.”  

Joint statement: Mandatory voter ID is a dangerous distraction 

We are writing to express our deep concern about government plans to force voters to show ID at the polling station – or be denied a vote.  

According to official figures, 3.5 million citizens do not have access to photo ID and 11 million do not have a passport or driving licence. 

As the government has often made clear, voting is safe and secure in the UK – making mandatory voter ID a solution in search of a problem. 

Instead, these proposals will turn polling workers into de facto bouncers – a role they do not want to have, and which raises its own risks of discretion and discrimination.    

Our democracy is already deeply unequal, with millions missing from the electoral roll, and with major gaps in turnout between groups. We need to be revitalising our democracy – not taking a sledgehammer to political engagement. 

Rather than inventing bogeymen and scare stories, ministers should focus on the real priorities facing our democracy. 

At a cost of up to £20m per election, this is a worrying case of warped priorities. We urge ministers to engage with civil society groups on how to improve our political process, not undermine it. 

Mandatory voter ID will bring up the drawbridge to millions of ordinary voters. There is still time to think again. 


1.     Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society 

2.     Dennis Reed Director Silver Voices 

3.     Nancy Kelley, CEO, Stonewall 

4.     Lord Simon Woolley, Founder and Director, Operation Black Vote 

5.     Kyle Taylor, Founder and Director, Fair Vote UK 

6.     Ibtisam Ahmed, Policy and Research Manager, LGBT Foundation 

7.     Professor Matt Henn, Chair of Social Research, Nottingham Trent University 

8.     Sam Grant, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Liberty 

9.     Cara English, Head of Public Engagement, Gendered Intelligence 

10.  Patricia Stapleton, Policy Manager, Traveller Movement  

11.  Isobel Ingham-Barrow, Head of Policy, MEND 

12.  Tim Hughes, Director, Involve 

13.  Nick Lowles, CEO, HOPE not hate 

14.  Larissa Kennedy, President, National Union of Students (NUS) 

15.  Mete Coban MBE, Chief Executive, My Life My Say 

16.  Jo Hobbs, CEO, British Youth Council 

17.  Dorian Leatham, CEO, Migrants’ Rights Network  

Notes to Editors 
Marginalised groups are less likely to have ID: Women, those living in urban areas, the under 20s and over 65s were less likely to hold a driving licence according to a report by the Electoral Commission in 2015. Since the 1990s, possession of a driving licence has dropped by 40 percent among under 20s. And a survey by the Department for Transport found that only 52 percent of Black people hold a driving licence, compared with 76 percent of the white population. 

The Electoral Commission has previously noted that limiting the acceptable form of ID to passports and photographic driving licences could potentially see almost a quarter of the electorate without acceptable photo ID https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9187/ 

More info:

· https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/how-government-voter-id-plans-are-an-expensive-and-dangerous-distraction/ 

· https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-voter-id-is-the-opposite-of-what-we-need-to-improve-our-elections/  

2018 evaluation of the voter ID pilots found a cost of up to £20m per GE for voter ID: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/electoral-integrity-project-local-elections-2018-evaluation More here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/voter-id-rollout-to-cost-up-to-20m-each-general-election/    
[1] David Davis’ comments: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-voter-id-queen-speech-b1843891.html and Ruth Davidson’s https://twitter.com/itvpeston/status/1392588377971740674

[2] See https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/voter-id/

Under the plans, 3.5m people may need to travel to their council office to verify their identities and acquire a so-called ‘free’ ID each election, before being able to vote https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/12/councils-could-have-to-issue-up-to-35m-id-cards-for-voters-under-new-bill
About the Electoral Reform Society    
The Electoral Reform Society is the UK’s leading voice for democratic reform. We work with everyone – from political parties, civil society groups and academics to our own members and supporters and the wider public – to campaign for a better democracy in the UK.   
Our vision is of a democracy fit for the 21st century, where every voice is heard, every vote is valued equally, and every citizen is empowered to take part. We make the case for lasting political reforms, we seek to embed democracy into the heart of public debate, and we foster the democratic spaces which encourage active citizenship.  


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