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PM accused of ‘voter suppression move’ with photo ID plan

Voters will have to show photographic ID when they vote in future, under proposals revealed in the Queen’s Speech.

The proposals have been criticised (Yui Mok/PA)
The proposals have been criticised (Yui Mok/PA)

By Patrick Daly and Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondents

Boris Johnson has been accused of attempting “voter suppression” with proposals to make photographic identification compulsory when voting.

The Queen’s Speech included plans to tighten rules around voting, with voters needing to show an “approved form of photographic ID” when turning up to polling stations.

Jeremy Corbyn accused the Government of trying to “stifle democracy” and said the legislation would disproportionately target working class, ethnic minority and young voters.

And the Labour leader’s predecessor Ed Miliband said the Prime Minister had not offered “any evidence” that there was an issue with the integrity of voting in the UK.

A passport or a driver’s licence featuring a photograph will need to be produced in order to have a say at the next election under the plans being proposed by the Government.

Ministers said those who do not hold such identification documents will be able to apply for free for a local electoral identity document to avoid losing their vote.

The fine print in the draft Bill also places extra burdens on postal voters, with fresh requirements to reapply every three years to vote by post.

Under current rules, those on the electoral register simply turn up at their local polling station to have their say.

Voters are sent polling cards informing them of the election date and where to go to vote, but the card does not have to be handed over in exchange for a ballot paper.

Mr Corbyn told the Commons: “We will not allow this Government to stifle democracy by making it harder for people to vote – there was only one instance of voter personation at the last election.

“Eleven million people in this country don’t have a passport or a driving licence. There are huge risks the legislation being proposed, which will disproportionately affect working class, ethnic minority and young voters.”

Mr Miliband said an extra level of bureaucracy would disenfranchise more people, particularly older voters.

“Photo ID to vote without any evidence of a problem such an obvious US voter suppression move,” he tweeted.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defended the plans as “proportionate and reasonable steps” to improve the electoral system’s security.

“In Northern Ireland, people have been showing photo ID since 2003 without any impact on the number of people who go and vote,” he added.

“Local authorities will provide voters without the required ID with alternative methods of ID free of charge to ensure that everyone eligible to vote has the opportunity to do so.”

The Electoral Commission said it had found the UK’s voting system was “vulnerable to fraud” in recent studies.

In voter ID pilot schemes run by the commission in 2018 and 2019, less than 1% of eligible voters turned up without their IDs and failed to return, according to a paper published on the findings.

When millions of people lack photo ID, these mooted plans risk raising the drawbridge to huge numbers of marginalised voters - including many elderly and BAME voters Electoral Reform Society

A commission spokesman said: “As we have highlighted, the Government should ensure that any ID requirements set out in the Bill allow for alternatives to photo ID, for those who do not already have this.

“This will ensure voting at polling stations remains accessible. We await further detail of the Government’s proposed Bill.”

But the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said its research indicated there were only eight allegations of impersonation made out of the millions of votes cast during elections in 2018.

Chief executive Darren Hughes said 3.5 million voters did not have access to photo ID, making them vulnerable to missing out.

“When millions of people lack photo ID, these mooted plans risk raising the drawbridge to huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) voters,” said Mr Hughes.

The ERS estimated the scheme would cost up to £20 million to enforce per election, adding to the estimated £140 million cost to the taxpayer of an election.

Conservative former cabinet minister Dame Cheryl Gillan, speaking during the Queen’s Speech debate, asked the Government to “think very carefully” about its election reform proposals.

She told the Commons: “I’m already getting a lot of emails from constituents worried that the legislation is going to contain photographic identification for voting.”

Dame Cheryl said she is “very worried about the most vulnerable” in society after highlighting the lack of a national ID card in the UK compared to other European countries which require ID for voting.

PA

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