From the COVID-19 pandemic to Climate Change, the world is currently facing unprecedented challenges. Therefore, when a proposal for a new government policy with a hefty £120 million price tag was revealed, it would be fair to assume that such a large amount of taxpayer money would be spent on protecting the NHS or funding innovative technology to help create a more sustainable future.
Instead, the government wants to spend £120 million on...mandating Voter ID at future elections. The plan is part of the government’s Elections Bill, which will be debated in parliament today.
Now you may think, ‘Surely Voter ID must be incredibly important, since the government is choosing to spend so much money on it while NHS workers had to fight for a measly 3% pay raise while working on the front lines of a once in a generation global pandemic’?
But here’s the strange thing - there is simply no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Britain. During the 2019 general election, there were only 33 allegations of impersonation at the polling station, and only one person convicted of impersonating another voter. One! The British people also have confidence in our elections, with 87% of Britons reporting that they believe that our elections are safe from fraud and abuse.
Far from being necessary, the overwhelming evidence suggests that voter ID could actually serve to disenfranchise millions of people. According to research funded by the government, around 6% of voters, or over two million people in the UK either have no form of ID or only have out of date or unrecognisable ID. Mandating that these people take time off from work or other responsibilities to obtain an electoral card unfairly targets the most vulnerable among us, since research has shown that older and disabled people are the most likely not to already possess a valid ID. Even Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned that the Elections Bill could lead to discrimination against the elderly and those with disabilities.
Let’s recap: there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, the public is confident in the security of our elections, and all available evidence suggests that mandating voter ID does far more harm than good. So why is the government devoting so much time and money to solving a problem that doesn’t exist?
At its core, the government’s obsession with Voter ID is a cynical attempt to sow division and stoke culture wars. One only has to look to the United States to see how debates over Voter ID have broadened and become part of a larger fight over voting rights, and by extension, identity as a whole. In Texas, for example, a new restrictive voting bill that disproportionately affects communities of colour is being used by the Republican party to shore up the party’s power in the state. In Georgia, it is now illegal to give food and water to those waiting in line to vote.
We have the power to reject the division currently plaguing the United States. We all want elections that are fair, honest, and transparent. But mandating Voter ID accomplishes none of those goals. Instead, it erects barriers to voting that simply aren’t necessary. We should be encouraging each and every citizen to play an active role in our democracy, not trying to prevent people from having a voice. That is why it’s time to raise our voices and speak out against the government’s wasteful, harmful Elections Bill.