Introducing voter ID risks removing ‘crucial’ trust, MPs warn

 Introducing voter ID risks removing ‘crucial’ trust, MPs warn

Plans to introduce voter identification risks removing “crucial” trust from the democratic system,  a cross-party group of MPs has said.

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) is urging the Government to stop the passage of the Elections Bill, which would introduce a requirement to show photographic ID to vote at polling stations and could give Downing Street more power over the election watchdog.

A report from the committee released on Monday said more thorough consultations are needed particularly in regards to the voter ID requirement.

The report said “there is a concern that a voter ID requirement will introduce a barrier preventing some people from exercising their vote”.

It noted that when the requirement to produce photographic identification at polling stations was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003, “the turnout at the 2004 Northern Ireland Assembly elections dropped by 2.3 per cent as a direct consequence”.

The report added: “The process of carrying out elections in the UK, the ease with which members of the electorate can cast their vote, and the trust that is shown in and by the electorate in general is an admirable and crucial tenet of our democratic process.

“These arrangements should be cherished and protected, and great care must be taken whenever consideration is given to altering them.

“Introducing a compulsory voter ID requirement risks upsetting the balance of our current electoral system, making it more difficult to vote and removing an element of the trust inherent in the current system.”

Chair of the committee William Wragg said: “While seeking to secure UK elections from potential voter fraud is a noble cause, we remain unconvinced that the scale of the problem justifies the solutions as they have been put forward.

“When people can be blocked from voting because they have incorrect documentation, have misplaced it or they have none, we must make doubly sure that the costs of the measures are commensurate with the risk.

“Likewise, any Government proposal which might directly or indirectly influence the independent regulator over its operations and decision-making will invite suspicion, especially when plans have been drawn up behind closed doors.

“The Electoral Commission must be impartial both in practice and in the public perception if it is to credibly maintain the integrity of our electoral system.”

The Conservative MP for Hazel Grove added: “We feel that the Elections Bill proposals lack a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation, and transparency, all of which should be addressed before it makes any further progress.

“We cannot risk any reduction of trust in UK elections, which is why the majority of the committee is calling for the Bill to be paused to give time for more work to be done to ensure the measures are fit for purpose.”

The report claims the committee received a significant number of pieces of evidence raising concern that the introduction of voter ID would cause additional barriers to voting for particular groups and communities, such as disabled people, transgender voters and non-binary voters and black and ethnic minority groups.

The report said: “Given the barriers that already face disabled people while voting, Sense is concerned that this could make it harder for some disabled people to vote. While the Bill’s broad definition of photographic ID does partly mitigate the disproportionate effect on disabled people, any additional barrier could discourage more disabled people from getting involved in elections.”

On concerns raised by groups representing LGBTQ communities, the report said: “The LGBT Foundation for example raised concerns about transgender voters and non-binary voters being able to access appropriate forms of ID.

“Mermaids told us that they think that the introduction of voter ID would ‘act to indirectly disenfranchise many trans people in the UK’.”

According to the report, the Runnymede Trust also raised concerns that introducing a voter ID requirement “would add further barriers to voting for Black and Ethnic Minority groups who are already less likely to be registered to vote and significantly less likely to hold forms of ID such as a driving licence”.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We should not be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democratic process remains secure. Our Elections Bill will stamp out the potential for voter fraud, and will bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.

“The UK Government will be providing additional funding to cover the costs of implementing our reforms, and voters who do not have one of the required forms of photographic identification can apply for a free local Voter Card.”

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