I have significant concerns about the impact of voter ID laws on democratic processes in the United Kingdom: the hidden implications of voter ID laws, the government’s motives behind the legislation and the potential threats of data harvesting from postal votes.
Uneven consequences for marginalised communities
There is a need for increasing public awareness in light of the failure of both the local authorities and the government to do so. Many eligible voters may be unaware of the new requirements, which could lead to confusion at polling stations and potential disenfranchisement.
The Electoral Commission (2018) reveals that nearly 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have photo identification. This fact disproportionately impacts minorities, the elderly, and low-income households, who often face hurdles in obtaining the necessary identification. In my area, around 13% of Staffordshire’s population consists of people aged 65 and over, suggesting that a significant number of individuals could face disenfranchisement due to voter ID requirements.
Concealed motives for voter ID legislation
Despite the government’s insistence that voter ID laws are vital for combating voter fraud, the Electoral Commission (2021) reported only 33 cases of voter impersonation during the 2019 general election, accounting for a mere 0.0001% of all votes cast. This information suggests that the government’s motives for introducing such legislation might be more complex.
Dr. Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, says: “The Government’s decision to roll out this policy nationwide is an unnecessary barrier to democratic participation that could disadvantage tens of thousands of voters. It’s a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and there are far better ways of dealing with the rare instances of fraud we see in the UK.”
Critics argue that voter ID laws could be designed to suppress the youth vote and participation from individuals from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, similar to strategies employed in some areas of the United States. Younger voters tend to lean towards progressive policies, which may not align with the government’s political agenda, thereby providing a potential motive for the introduction of voter ID requirements.
The United States’ experience: voter suppression and efforts to enhance participation
There are positive examples from the US that the UK should consider. For example, Stacey Abrams, a political activist in Georgia, has dedicated her efforts to increase black voter registration and participation by challenging voter suppression tactics and promoting voter education.
The UK government should prioritise initiatives that foster voter engagement and inclusivity, rather than implementing measures that risk marginalising certain demographics.
The dark side of data harvesting from postal votes
One potential reason for promoting voter ID legislation could be the desire to collect more data on voters. In some instances, the Conservatives are reported to be harvesting data from postal votes obtained through their local branches. This information can then be utilised to target and influence voters more effectively during election campaigns.
This method of data harvesting is reminiscent of Cambridge Analytica’s operations during the 2016 US elections campaign. The company utilised personal data to create detailed profiles of voters and employed targeted messaging to sway their decisions. By advocating for voter ID legislation, political parties may be seeking to expand their access to voter data, enabling them to target and manipulate voters more effectively.
Decline in voter turnout: Electoral Commission concerns
The 2018 voter ID pilots led to a drop in voter turnout. The Electoral Reform Society (2018) reported an overall decrease of 5% in voter turnout in areas where ID requirements were piloted. Staffordshire, as well as other areas across the UK, could experience a similar decline in voter turnout if the voter ID requirements are implemented nationwide.
The Electoral Commission has also expressed concerns about the short timescale involved in introducing this procedure. In some areas, concerns about possible unrest have put the police on alert, adding another layer of complexity to the implementation process.
It is crucial for the government and local authorities to invest in comprehensive public awareness campaigns that inform citizens of the new voter ID requirements and the steps they need to take to ensure they can participate in the electoral process. Furthermore, the government should consider providing financial and logistical support to those who may face barriers in obtaining the required identification.
Given these concerns, the government should reverse the legislation. By doing so, they would demonstrate a commitment to upholding democratic values and ensuring that every eligible citizen can participate in the electoral process without unnecessary barriers.