Public law and human rights lecturer Dr Ben Stanford is warning that the new Election Act (2022) threatens to dilute democracy after assessing pilot schemes for voter ID arrangements.
He says pilots in 2018 and 2019 delivered a “mixed picture” of their likely impact on voter turnout but added that “a substantial number of people were turned away for lacking the required ID” in both tests.
Speaking to The Independent on the issue, Ben said: “The voter ID requirements being implemented in the UK are certainly more strict than they could and need to be to meet policy objectives.
“They resemble the strictest laws seen in some states in the US. Preparations to introduce voter ID have undoubtedly been rushed through, with numerous stakeholders expressing concern at the speed of implementation.”
The new law means that starting from the coming local elections in May 2023, voters will be required to present photo identification to prove they are who they say they are when they arrive at polling stations. The Government argued that the change was needed to improve election security but many believe it will deter some people from casting their ballot and lead to greater disenfranchisement.
Research carried out by the Cabinet Office in 2021 found that 9 per cent of the British public do not currently hold any form of photo ID that is both in-date and clearly recognisable – requirements to cast a ballot.
Dr Stanford, a senior lecturer at LJMU School of Law, said the new limitations were “massively controversial”, not least because those citizens least likely to possess ID are “generally not Conservative Party voters.”
The exclusion of university ID cards from the list of approved IDs “only adds weight to criticisms that the new voter ID requirement is politically-motivated and that the list of acceptable identification has been deliberately limited, ultimately disadvantaging younger people and minorities”, he said.
One mitigating measure – the creation of a Voter Authority Certificate for those without photo-ID - could prove vulnerable to delays in processing, he added, citing the recent backlog in passport application approvals and the squeezed budgets of government departments in response to the present cost of living crisis, which “will only place further pressure on the administrative functions of crucial state service providers”.
Other things that could be put in place to mitigate these risks, such as provisional voting where people lacking ID can vote subject to later verification, or ‘vouching’ for another person, are not being implemented.
Dr Stanford continued: “I do worry that turnout will substantially decrease in the most socially-deprived areas and especially those where political engagement may be weakest.
“The change is unprecedented on a national scale meaning that an unprecedented amount of publicity and awareness is needed but currently lacking.
“In my view, even putting to the side political arguments, the negligible evidence of impersonation at polling stations cannot justify the democratic cost of voter disenfranchisement and the financial cost of implementing voter ID.”