Tory voter ID laws could “undermine the right to vote” in this week’s local elections, campaigners have warned.
Ten councils will demand voters show ID before they can cast their vote on Thursday as part of a trial.
But Labour has branded the Government scheme “undemocratic” and warned it will disproportionately impact ethnic minority communities, older people, disabled people and students.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said the policy risked excluding voters who do not possess identification papers and represented “a significant risk to democratic access and equality”.
Last year’s voter ID pilots saw more than 1,000 people turned away for not having the correct documentation. Of these, around 350 did not return to vote.
According to the Electoral Commission, personation fraud – pretending to be someone else at the ballot box – made up just eight of the 266 cases investigated by police relating to elections in 2018. By contrast, campaigning offences accounted for more than half of complaints.
Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the ERS, said: “Forcing all voters to show their papers at the polling station is a solution looking for a problem.
“Most electoral offences are committed by parties rather than voters. Yet it is innocent voters who lose out when the Government locks ordinary people out of democracy – and millions risk being excluded from our politics because of these plans.”
Cat Smith MP, Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement, said: “At a time when millions of people are missing from the electoral roll, it takes a special kind of ignorance for the Government to be trying to make it harder for people to vote.
“These voter ID pilots are a total waste of money and will negatively impact ethnic minority communities, older people, disabled people and students.
“We cannot allow the Tories to undermine our democratic right to vote, which is why we’re calling on the Government to abandon these undemocratic and unpopular proposals.”
The 10 councils participating in the pilot on Thursday are:
- North Kesteven
- North West Leicestershire
Two councils – East Staffordshire and Ribble Valley – originally signed up for pilots but have since pulled out, citing concerns about resources and voters being excluded.
The Government estimates the cost of introducing mandatory voter ID nationally as between £4 million and £20 million per general election.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Electoral fraud is an unacceptable crime that strikes at a core principle of our democracy – that everyone’s vote matters.
“Showing ID to vote is a reasonable way to stop this and is something people already do every day, when they pick up a parcel at the post office, claim their benefits or take out a library book.
“Both last year’s pilots and the decades of experience of Northern Ireland show that voter ID does not have an adverse effect on election turnout or participation.”