Turnout for elections is likely to fall if the government goes ahead with its Elections Bill, Labour group leader Lee Cowen told Adur District Council last week. “We should be making it easier to vote, not harder,” he said.
The Elections Bill includes the provision that people must present photo ID at the polling station before they are allowed to vote.
Lee Cowen (Mash Barn) said: “Here is another example of the government using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We have so many people without forms of photo ID, it’s bound to affect turnout at local elections.”
Lee’s resolution, seconded by Jeremy Gardner (St Mary’s), was supported by the council’s Labour and Green councillors at this month’s Adur Council meeting.
Conservative councillors unanimously rejected the resolution despite growing concerns about the Government plans, including opposition from a Conservative-chaired parliamentary committee.
The resolution noted that “the introduction of photo ID as a requirement to vote would be a threat to our democratic traditions and would be likely to reduce participation in our elections”.
According to the Electoral Commission, 11 million UK citizens have no driving licence or passport and 3.5 million no access to photo ID at all.
The Electoral Reform Society says evidence from around the world shows that forcing voters to bring photographic ID to the polling station just makes it harder for people to vote – while doing little to increase faith in the integrity of the system. “We don’t need to spend millions to put up barriers to people taking part in our democracy” said a Society spokesperson.
The Society said: “There is a reason groups as wide-ranging as the Salvation Army to Stonewall, Age UK and racial equality organisations oppose these plans: they will impact some people more than others and pull up the drawbridge to people across the country.”
The Cabinet Office estimates the cost of requiring ID at polling stations will be more than £120 million over ten years. This includes the need for more staff at polling stations.
This month the Parliamentary Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by a Conservative and including a further five Conservative MPs, published the final report of its inquiry into the Elections Bill. The committee urged the government not to proceed with its proposal. They said further research and consultation was needed.
The Committee found that the introduction of mandatory photo ID at the polling station 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”. They said the research and evidence produced by the government to support this proposal “has simply not been good enough”.
Although this type of electoral fraud is relatively rare in Britain, and is described as at “very low levels” by the Electoral Commission, Conservative Councillor Andy McGregor told the council meeting this legislation was needed because there were problems in Birmingham in 2005.
The Electoral Reform Society has organised a petition against the Government’s plans: