Tory plans to force voters to present ID could disenfranchise millions, campaigners warn.
Black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are among those most likely to be disenfranchised from democracy should the UK Government’s plans for mandatory voter ID go ahead, a campaign group has warned.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said the proposals, announced this week in the Queen’s Speech, could create a “Windrush scandal for democracy” and make it harder to vote for millions of ordinary people to vote.
Under the plans, people would be prevented from voting unless they can provide photographic identification.
A report for the Electoral Commission in 2016 revealed that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, and 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence – the type of ID expected to be required under new legislation.
Although ministers have promised a free form of identification from local councils on request, the ERS say this represents another barrier to voting that will put many off – with large variations likely in terms of how easy the cards are to acquire.
During pilot trials for compulsory voter ID in ten English councils, more than 700 people were denied a vote for not having acceptable identification. The ERS warns that voters could be excluded “on an industrial scale” if a mandatory photo ID scheme was rolled out nationally.
Dr Jess Garland, ERS director of policy and research, said: “The Windrush scandal showed what can happen when millions of people who lack ID are shut out by government. BAME groups – as well as many young and elderly voters – are likely to be hard hit by this ‘show your papers’ policy.
“These plans risk excluding huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME voters – from our democratic processes and risk undermining free and fair elections.
“There remains no evidence of widespread impersonation at the ballot box yet the government continues to cynically pursue this ‘show your papers’ policy knowing full well the potential impact across the country.
“These plans are set to leave tens of thousands of legitimate voters voiceless and hit some groups much harder than others. Ministers should focus on combating the real threats to our democracy, rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”
Dr Omar Khan, director of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said the Windrush Scandal proved how difficult it could be for some members of minority groups to provide proof of their identity.
He added: “We also know from examples around the world that they are more likely to be disenfranchised when voter identification requirements become stricter. It is shocking, therefore, that none of the pilots took place in more diverse areas.
“Runnymede calls on further pilots to determine whether voter identification changes will increase already existing racial inequalities in voting rights, and to learn how Britain can better tackle the voter registration gap which currently exists.”