At the beginning of the month swathes of the country including London went to the ballot box for the local Council elections. In South London, Bromley was one of the Nation’s five Boroughs piloting the Government’s voter ID scheme. This scheme requires voters to present identification before casting their ballot and is part of the Government’s programme to prevent 'impersonation' at polling stations.
However, analysis by the Electoral Commission revealed that at the last General Election in 2017 there were just 28 allegations of impersonation at polling stations, with just one of these allegations resulting in a prosecution. As such voter fraud allegations amounted to 0.000063% of overall votes cast. Compare this to the estimated 4000 people who were turned away for not having the correct ID in the five trial boroughs in this month’s local election, which represent 1.67% of voters in the trial areas.
I find this extremely concerning as this is the first time citizens have been denied their right to vote since universal suffrage was introduced. Ensuring integrity of the electoral system is very important but these figures suggest the proposals amount to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and in the process have prevented some people from voting and further deterred others from doing so.
On polling day my local polling station told me they had already turned away two people before I voted at 08.30am and there were reports of people being turned away across the Borough throughout the day. There is the opportunity for these people to return later in the day with the correct ID (if they have it) but whether they did is subject to question.
Additionally, the added time that it takes to do ID checks puts a strain on the rate at which polling stations can process voters. There were reports of morning queues to vote in Bromley due to the extra processing time and voters leaving the queues without voting because understandably people do not necessarily have the extra time to wait whilst also juggling family and work responsibilities.
The problem with the voter ID scheme is that not everyone has or can produce the required ID. It may be easy to brush this point aside and claim it is the fault of the voter, but the fact remains that many people across the country don’t have utility bills in their names, still rely on key meters, may not have a bus pass and cannot afford a driving license or passport. It shouldn’t cost people to exercise their democratic right. We already have to register on the electoral roll in order to vote, why introduce yet another barrier to voting which would bring a cost to many?
Furthermore, the requirement for ID is all the more in question considering the current Windrush scandal where British citizens of the Windrush generation have been subject to horrific treatment exacerbated by documentation issues. If voter ID was rolled out across the country the Windrush generation may have faced the further indignity of not being able to cast their vote.
Despite these obvious failures, a Government spokesman has insisted the pilot had been a 'success'. Whilst I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, the point still remains that it is virtually impossible for voter impersonation to affect an election result on any large scale. It is only possible to ‘steal’ one vote through impersonation. Therefore to effectively influence an election would require a professional campaign coordinating thousands of fraudsters.
Whilst electoral fraud must be combatted, it still remains that the issue itself is almost non-existent. Introducing a voter ID scheme would disenfranchise considerably more people than the scheme would save from having their vote ‘stolen’. Furthermore, the financial cost to roll out the system would far outweigh the current cost of mitigating fraud.
To improve our democracy, we should constantly seek to widen participation and voter engagement. However, these proposals are far too draconian. Voting is a fundamental right in our society and we should be proud of this. But the notion that we can tighten access to this right, however small it may be, should worry us all. I can certainly say that if the Government goes ahead with this scheme they will be successfully solving a problem that never really existed and further helping disenfranchise voters from exercising their democratic right to vote.