In the Queen’s Speech recently, the Conservative party announced that photographic ID will be required to vote at the ballot box in parliamentary elections and English local elections. The plan aims to prevent voter fraud, and ‘protect the integrity of democracy’.
People who do not have photo ID will be able to apply for free ‘local electoral identity document’ in advance of the elections. This is very similar to what has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2003. The government is not saying that electoral fraud is a widespread problem, they are just attempting to prevent it from happening.
In 2010, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions recommended that “serious consideration should be given to introducing a more robust mechanism for identification of voters.” They suggested that “existing national and local government-issued cards” would be appropriate.
The Labour party has said that this is an attempt to ‘rig the next election’, by suppressing voter turnout among younger and ethnic minority voters.
Campaigners are claiming that new regulations would disenfranchise thousands, or even millions of people who do not have photographic IDs, particularly minority ethnic groups, or poorer people who have no passports or driving licenses. However, the voices shouting most loudly about this do not mention the free provision of local electoral identity documents, which would be available to everyone who does not have photo ID.
Last year there was a trial of photographic ID at polling stations, in eight council areas. 819 people were turned away and unable to vote.
The Electoral Commission, which regulates voting and political parties says there was “no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud” in 2018. Police investigated 266 allegations in 2018, which led to one conviction and two suspects accepting police cautions. In 2017, when the UK last went to the polls for a General Election, there was one conviction and eight suspects accepted police cautions. This does not include instances which were not reported to the police.
With thanks to Channel 4’s Fact Check page for some of this data – see their web page for more in depth facts.
Registering to vote
In order to register to vote, at present you need your National Insurance number, your passport (if you’re a British citizen living abroad who wishes to vote in the UK). It is possible to register to vote anonymously, for example if you are concerned about your safety.