The Government is keen to introduce a voter ID scheme and chosen Bromley as a pilot borough to trial out the scheme. I find this very concerning as I believe the requirement to bring ID to the polling station will prevent some people from being able to vote and deter others from voting.
These are concerns which have further been expressed by the Electoral Reform Society who call the measures deeply flawed and may potentially indicate an attempt by the Government to deter some citizens from voting. Even in Bromley Council’s own equality impact assessment on the issue it was acknowledged that the changes may have an adverse effect on elderly and trans people who may not have the correct or up to date documentation.
The introduction of voter ID is intended to help reduce electoral fraud. However, In 2017 there was only one convicted case of electoral fraud based on impersonation. Furthermore, the UK’s official statistics watchdog, the ‘UK statistics authority’ condemned the Government’s argument that voter fraud has more than doubled in two years as misleading.
However, not everyone has or can produce the required ID. It may be easy to brush this point aside but the fact remains that many people across the country still rely on key meters, may not have a bus pass and may not travel so do not have a passport.
This is all the more important considering the current Windrush scandal where British citizens of the Windrush generation have been subject to horrific treatment exacerbated by documentation issues. If voter ID was rolled out across the country the Windrush generation may face the further indignity of not being able to cast their vote.
Additionally the added time that it takes to do ID checks puts a strain on the rate at which polling stations can process voters. This morning in Bromley there have been reports of queues to vote due to the extra processing time. Voters were reported as leaving the queues without voting because understandably people do not necessarily have the extra time to wait whilst also juggling family and work responsibilities.
In addition to this it had been reported that four polling stations being used in Crystal Palace ward in Bromley on Thursday morning had already turned away multiple people by 10:30am for not having ID. My local polling station told me they had already turned away two people before I voted at 08.30am.
There is the opportunity for these people to return later in the day with the correct ID (if they have it) but whether they will is subject to question. We all have other commitments in our lives and we might not necessarily be able to find the time to go back to the polling station for a second time.
I believe these proposals are far too draconian and will only serve to disenfranchise voters. Voting is a fundamental right in our society and we should be proud of this. But the notion that we can tighten access to this right, however small it may be, should worry us all.
Statistics show that voter fraud has a negligible effect in the UK whereas statistics in the US show that voter ID has a significant impact at suppressing sections of society from voting. Furthermore, the cost of rolling out a voter ID scheme nationwide would far outweigh the cost of voter fraud, especially as it is so small.
From my experience on polling day I can certainly say that if the Government goes ahead with this scheme they will be successfully solving a problem that never really existed and further helping disenfranchise voters from exercising their democratic right to vote.
Ellie Reeves is the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge