Voter ID requirements – a threat to democracy?
Categories: Latest News
Tuesday July 27 2021
Outlined in the Queen’s speech, the UK Government recently announced that voters would soon be required to present an ID at polling stations as part of the upcoming Electoral Integrity Bill. The Government has argued that the proposed measures will help to “protect voters” and help “strengthen the integrity of UK elections”. However, the idea has received significant criticism and has been described by some as being a ‘Trumpian’ political policy, over fears it could further disenfranchise millions of already disadvantaged people.
Critics of the idea argue that the measures would significantly and negatively impact democratic processes without any credible evidence to suggest that there is an issue of systemic voter fraud in the UK. Indeed, according to the Electoral Commission, there was “no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud” in 2019, with only four cases (of the 595 potential cases that were investigated) leading to a conviction. It is, therefore, surprising that the Government is seeking to disenfranchise millions over a paltry sum of cases potentially. It is important to note that the Electoral Commission previously found that around 3.5 million citizens did not have access to any photo ID, all of whom would be unable to exercise their democratic rights if the measures are introduced. A further 11 million citizens could potentially be denied the right to vote if only particular forms of ID are stipulated (i.e., restrictions to only allow passports or driving licenses). Therefore, the policy has the potential to massively reduce voter turnout ensuring that any future election is based on a significantly limited electorate. As such, with the multiple significant challenges the plan presents to the fundamental democratic rights of all citizens, the Government must reconsider and suspend the proposal.
In addition to the challenges the proposal presents to all citizenry, the measures will have a disproportionately negative impact on marginalised communities which are already more likely to not engage with democratic processes compared to the wider society. Previous findings from the Electoral Commission have highlighted that the rate of people without any ID is “higher among certain, more disadvantaged groups”. Additional research by the Department for Transport found that only 53% of Black people and 61% of Asian people hold a driving licence (compared to 76% of White people). Therefore, any measures seeking to introduce voter ID requirements would have to contend with the fact that various marginalised groups are less likely to have IDs compared to the general population. To add further barriers to their democratic participation would be particularly problematic considering that marginalised communities are already less likely to engage with democratic societal structures to begin with. According to the Electoral Commission, 25% of Black voters and 24% of Asian voters are not even registered (compared to a national average of 17%). Therefore, the Government rather than seeking to further impede the exercise of democratic rights should instead be seeking to introduce measures that encourage disadvantaged groups to engage with democratic processes.
The plans to introduce voter IDs present several major challenges to the proper functioning of the British democracy. To introduce such measures will only result in the undermining of our democracy, and election results being less credible. As such, MEND stands with organisations calling for a U-turn on the voter ID plans. MEND also urges that Ministers focus on increasing political engagement and improving voter turnout by proactively engaging and consulting with representative and grassroots organisations within British Muslim communities, including but not limited to Muslim Engagement and Development.