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Voter ID

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 18 August 2021

The petition of residents of the constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran,

Declares that the current statistics on voter fraud show that it is incredibly rare and that this is no widespread problem across the UK, thus voter ID requirements are a solution in search of a problem; further that the only type of fraud that photographic voter IDs could prevent is voter impersonation, which is even more rare each year; further that this legislation has been described as draconian, archaic and anti-democratic, as it puts a qualification on the franchise; further that the real consequence of this legislation will be this Government suppressing voting among lower income, ethnic minority, and younger people, all of whom are less likely to vote for the party now in Government; further that, in contrast to this archaic Government, the SNP Government in Holyrood is focused on measures to extend the franchise and encourage turnout; further that the SNP has already introduced votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, refugees, and foreign nationals with leave to remain; and further that voting should be made as easy as possible with no barrier to contributing to democracy.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to dismiss any plans to implement legislation that enforces voter IDs.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patricia Gibson, Official Report, 20 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 930.]

[P002680]

Observations from the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution (Chloe Smith):

Voter identification is part of the Government’s body of work to strengthen the integrity and security of our elections. We will not remove voter identification requirements from the Elections Bill.

The Government were elected on a manifesto that committed to protecting the integrity of our democracy, by introducing identification to vote at polling stations. The Government have since announced that these measures are being brought forward as part of a wider initiative to tackle electoral fraud and give voters confidence in our elections.

Voter fraud is a crime that we cannot allow room for, so the Government are stamping out any potential for it to take place in our elections. Strengthening the integrity of our electoral system will give the public confidence that our elections will remain secure well into the future. Showing identification to prove who you are is something people of all walks of life already do every day. It is a reasonable and proportionate approach to extend this practice to voting and to give the public confidence in a core principle of our democracy—that their vote is theirs, and theirs alone.

An independent review of electoral fraud conducted by Lord Pickles highlighted the events of cases such as Tower Hamlets—in which the 2014 Mayoral election was declared void by corrupt and illegal practices—as evidence of vulnerabilities in our system which must be addressed. In addition to the recommendation in the Pickles report to introduce voter identification, the policy is supported by the independent Electoral Commission and is backed by international election observers such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Humans Rights, which have repeatedly called for the introduction of identification in polling stations in Great Britain, saying its absence is a security risk.

Personation—assuming the identity of another person with the intention to deceive—is very difficult to prove and prosecute: by definition, it is a crime of deception. However, it is by no means a victimless crime and it is often the most vulnerable who find themselves targeted. There are frequent anecdotal reports of personation, including most recently during the 2021 local elections. Often, it only comes to light if and when the real voter tries to vote later, after the crime has been committed.

That is why voter identification is so important, as it virtually eliminates the risk of personation occurring in the first place, and that is why the Government will not be dismissing plans to implement these measures.

Even the perception that our electoral system is vulnerable to fraud is damaging for public confidence. Data from our pilot evaluations in 2018 and 2019 show that the requirement to show identification increased voter confidence in the voting process. This is supported by the Electoral Commission’s recent survey which found that the majority of the public say a requirement to show identification at polling stations would make them more confident in the security of the voting system. Both rounds of voter identification pilots also demonstrated our ability to collaborate very successfully with local authorities and support them in delivering voter identification that works for voters.

Voters in Northern Ireland have been required by law to show paper identification since 1985, and the Labour Government introduced photographic identification at polling stations across Northern Ireland in 2003. Voter identification has been operating with ease in Northern Ireland for decades and has proven to be effective at tackling electoral fraud and improving voter confidence. This is also the case in many countries around the world, where voter identification works with ease.

The requirement for voters in the rest of the UK to identify themselves in order to collect their ballot paper already exists in law but this law is archaic. Voters are currently asked to provide their name and address, which is checked against the electoral register, in order to collect their ballot paper. This requirement is clearly vulnerable to fraud and so the Government are updating and improving it.

To that end, voters will be required to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper to vote at a polling station in a UK parliamentary election in Great Britain and at local elections in England, and at Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales.

The list of approved photographic identification will not be limited to passports and driving licences. A broad range of documents will be accepted, including, for example, various concessionary travel passes, Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) cards and photocard parking permits issued as part of the Blue Badge scheme. In addition, expired photographic identification will be accepted as long as the photograph is of a good enough likeness to allow polling station staff to confirm the identity of the holder.

Everyone who is eligible to vote will continue to be able to do so.

New research published by the Government shows that 98% of voters already own a photographic document that is on the list of acceptable types of identification under this policy. The figure was between 96%-99% across all age groups and regions and the research found that 99% of people from ethnic minorities owned an accepted form of photographic identification, as did 99% of those aged 18-29. This research can be found at: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9187/.

Where a voter does not have one of the approved forms of photo identification, local authorities will be required, by law, to provide a Voter Card free of charge. The Electoral Commission will deliver a comprehensive and targeted communications campaign to raise awareness for the changes to the requirements at the polling station and we will continue to work with the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders, including charities and civil society organisations, to make sure that voter identification works for all voters.