Voter Suppression and poll failures – the latest government election efforts

Two significant bits of news as regards elections in the UK have emerged in the last few days:

Voter ID requirement would be suppression effort

First, the government has said that it wants to press ahead with plans to require voters to take photo identity documents to the polling station. This measure, although a common requirement in countries with ID cards, has been dubbed an attempt at voter suppression in the UK where the most likely to be hit would be young people, the elderly and people from minority communities.

Two rounds of pilots have taken place in local council elections where voters were required to bring either photo ID or poll cards in order to be allowed to vote. In the most recent trial in five local authorities, more than 750 people were turned away and did not return with the correct documents although many others did so after initially being refused. In contrast, during the 2015 elections (which included a general election) there 665 complaints of electoral fraud but most related to nominations or postal voting. There were 26 cases reported of ‘personation’ at a polling station, but none resulted in convictions. A total of around 51.4 million ballots cast.

But if most other countries require ID, why shouldn’t the UK? 

First, because we don’t have a national identity card system. (That’s a whole separate civil liberties argument). So we have to rely on forms of identity that we do have – passports and driving licences. But only about 78% of the adult population have passports and only about 80% have driving licenses. These raw statistics would suggest that 96% of the population would have one or the other, but actually if you don’t have a passport then you are much less likely to have a driving licence. So the real figure is about 11% – one in nine of the population. And these people are statistically more likely to be much younger, not in work or from minority populations – in other words, statiustically less likely to be Conservative voters.

In order to get around the ‘No-ID’ problem, the government would have to issue a special form of voting ID card. With a potential 5.6 million to issue, this would be an expensive and complex business (it would have to be free to the applicant) and very difficult to promote to the audiences who need to see and understand the message.

All this begins to look very similar to efforts in the United States to suppress the likely support for opposition parties. 

I used to work for the Electoral Reform Society. As part of that work I highlighted the much more real danger of electoral fraud connected with postal votes and this work resulted in significant changes to the law to try to stamp this out. Even with those changes I would still regard postal voting as a much greater risk of fraud than in-person voting. In response to the new government proposals, the ERS have said:

“Ministers should focus on combating the real threats to our democracy – dark ads, disinformation and dodgy donations – rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”

Electoral Commission criticises government over Euro-poll failures

Second, the Electoral Commission has blamed the government for the failures of the European Parliamentary elections when thousands of eligible voters were denied the chance to cast their ballot. The Commission has blamed “outdated laws” and “the failure by the government to act on recommendations made four years ago”.

The Commission also said voter confidence in the election was lower than in any other recent polls, denting the democratic contract with the public.

Thousands of EU citizens who were on the electoral roll were turned away as they had not been informed they also had to fill in a form confirming they would be exercising their vote in the UK rather than in their country of origin. There were a number of reports of councils giving misleading information to voters who made enquiries and of authorities who failed to process returned forms properly.

Many UK citizens living overseas complained that they did not receive their ballot papers in time to have their vote count.