There is vanishingly small evidence that showing your ID when voting in Britain would reduce electoral fraud. That’s because, although the occasional rare case hits the headlines, there is vanishingly little evidence that personation (pretending to be someone else in order to steal their vote) is a problem.
Even the government’s own report, from a carefully selected knighted ex-Conservative minister, failed to find such evidence.
In that respect, England, Wales and Scotland are different from Northern Ireland, where there was evidence of such problems. Evidence that justified taking action in Northern Ireland.
But action is not cost-free. Concentrating on fixing a problem that isn’t one in Britain takes time, money and attention away from fixing things that really are broken.
It also comes with risks, notably putting people off voting. Or even worse, putting some particular groups in society off voting. (Groups which, ahem, are less likely to vote Conservative on average, making it hard to avoid the conclusion that the Conservatives words about tackling fraud are driven by electoral self-interest.)
As the New Statesman reports:
Liberal Democrat MPs write to Michael Gove over fears that mandatory voter ID will disproportionately impact ethnic minorities…
“Safeguarding our democracy should be the priority of any responsible government. People must have faith that any changes to voting procedure are fair and necessary,” said Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Cabinet Office.
“It is scandalous that this government is moving forward with plans for mandatory voter ID without even assessing the risk that black and minority ethnic groups may be disproportionately impacted.
“Ministers must guarantee that an independent equality impact assessment will take place, and we will have the results before the government proceeds.”
Here is the full text of the letter to Michael Gove:
I write in response to the deeply worrying reports which emerged last week suggesting that the Cabinet Office has failed to gather evidence on the impact that introducing voter ID requirements will have on ethnic minority voters.
Experts on this issue have frequently raised concerns that the introduction of voter ID checks at the polling booth will disproportionately impact ethnic minority groups, as well as people on lower incomes and older people. Despite this, it seems that no effort was made to gather evidence on this in areas where voter ID checks were piloted last year.
I am writing to seek confirmation that the Government will not take forward these changes given the risk that it will suppress turnout at elections among certain groups of voters.
I would be grateful if you could please confirm:
- That an independent equality impact assessment will be conducted on the introduction of voter ID requirements; and that the outcome of this assessment will be published before any legislation is brought forward.
- That no change to voter ID requirements will be introduced if an independent equality impact assessment raises concerns that any group of voters are likely to be disproportionately impacted by this change.
You will no doubt be aware of the evidence from around the world which shows that asking voters to bring photographic ID to the polling station makes it harder for them to vote – while doing little to prevent voter fraud (which is, thankfully, extremely rare in the UK).
I hope you will agree that the Government must not push ahead with any proposal which makes it harder for people to engage in our democracy and thereby undermines the legitimacy and integrity of our electoral system.
I would be grateful for any assurances you can offer me on this matter.
Wendy Chamberlain – Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office Spokesperson
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