Millions of voters could be disenfranchised under “discriminatory” plans due to be unveiled on Monday that will force people to carry identification to cast a ballot, Labour has warned.
Ahead of the introduction of the elections bill to parliament, the shadow democracy minister, Cat Smith, said the sweeping changes were tantamount to US Republican-style “voter suppression”.
The government made the policy one of its flagship announcements in this year’s Queen’s speech, and claimed the overhaul would make elections more secure by cracking down on in-person voter fraud. It also wants to limit the number of postal votes that a person can hand in on behalf of others.
Various pilots of voter ID, ranging from people simply having to present polling cards to mandatory photo documents such as passports or driving licences, took place in a series of English council districts at local elections in 2018 and 2019, with 1,159 voters turned away at the polling station.
Critics say a national requirement for all voters to carry identification will cost the taxpayer about £40m over the next decade, and pointed to a Cabinet Office-commissioned study released in May that found more than 2 million voters could lack the necessary ID to take part in future elections.
The prevalence of voter fraud has also been downplayed by the Electoral Commission, which said the UK had “low levels of proven electoral fraud”. In 2019, there was just one conviction and one police caution for impersonating another voter.
UK-wide and English elections would be affected by the change. Voters in Northern Ireland are already required to show identification before voting. Details of what forms of identification are acceptable will be revealed when the bill is published.
Smith accused Conservative ministers of “using the cover of the pandemic to rig democracy in their favour”, calling it “yet another example of the Conservatives bending the rules to benefit themselves”.
She said it was a “total waste of taxpayers’ money” and contrasted the cost with the government’s decision to award NHS staff only a 1% pay rise.
“It doesn’t matter how the government tries to dress it up, these plans will make it harder for working-class, older and black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons to vote,” Smith said. “They know this is the case because their own research shows that millions of our fellow citizens lack photo ID in this country.”
The Electoral Reform Society said the plans could lead to “disenfranchisement on an industrial scale”.
The Cabinet Office said “everyone eligible to vote will be able to do so” and that voter cards would be issued free to those who needed it to prove their identity. It also highlighted plans to make it easier for British citizens who have moved abroad to vote in elections.
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