Earlier this year, the Queen’s speech opened the government with a proposed law that would require voters to present valid ID in order to be able to vote in elections. In the 2019 election, only 6 cases of voter fraud were evidenced. This shows that the rationale behind ID being the solution to voter fraud and creating fairer elections is not a valid basis for this proposed policy. Rather, this is evidence of voter suppression.
Voter suppression is not a novel idea. More specifically, it is tied to a long-standing US tradition of surveillance and diminishing black and people of colour votes. In Georgia, a March elections law made it illegal for volunteers to hand out food or water to people standing in line to vote, which is a law directly tied to suppression votes and access to voting, especially those of urban and POC voters, for whom this food and water are essential in long wait lines.
Similarly, in North Carolina, voter suppression was evidenced through banning same-day registration, making voters unable to vote without prior registration. Further, policies like reducing early voting periods and requiring photo ID – as the UK government is proposing to introduce – have extended and expanded the voter suppression in this state.
The government’s proposal builds on from the US tradition and the Republican playbook to implant the principles of limiting votes from [urban] voters of colour.
The danger of this policy lies in the undemocratic and deliberately stands to limit access to voting and prohibit votes, especially those of urban and black and other minorities. If voter ID is to be made a mandatory prerequisite for voting, the lack of equal focus on provision of this ID to eligible voters exposes the underlying rationale of this policy being undemocratic at its core.
The cost of a provisional license is around £35-43, while a passport is between £75.50-95. Making this mandatory for voting means that there would essentially be a cost to vote, which some people – poorer people especially – would not be able to afford. Those who are unemployed and on benefits are unlikely to have enough disposable income (as a result of living paycheck to paycheck), to spend this amount on obtaining a form of ID. Even with the ‘cheapest’ rate of £43, this is unaffordable to many living on the breadline, who don’t have expendable income to spend on something that isn’t necessarily a necessity, but a luxury to enable voting.
As the cheapest form of ID, even a provisional license requires permanent residence, access to technology, technological literacy and expendable money to buy this. The process requires ID photos, and access to the internet to avoid more expensive fees, which many people do not have access to. Accordingly, proving the necessity of Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto pledge for ‘free broadband for all’, which was adopted during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, around 11 million potential voters were found to not have any ID, and the fact that this ID might not be affordable and available to all potential voters is intrinsically formed to reduce voting turnout, specifically that of poorer voters. Not only does this impact poorer voters, but it also intersects with black and other minority voters, as 48% of black voters have no formal ID, nor hold a full license. Similarly, the latest DVLA data shows that 53 per cent of black people and 61 per cent of Asian people over the age of 17 held a full driving licence, meaning the ID requirement is effectively a means of disadvantaging ethnic and socioeconomic groups from voting. This conveys the intended impact of skewing the vote, and those able to vote, towards Conservative-leaning demographics. Thus, this proposed law stands to put a paywall on voting that would not be affordable for a large section of society; especially those concentrated in lower-class areas.
Ultimately, enforcing voter ID for elections, without provision of this on a free and optional basis, stands to evidence the strengthening and expansion of blatant voter suppression in the UK.
The Electoral Commission says the country “has low levels of proven electoral fraud”. Given that there were only 6 cases (0.000058%) of British voter fraud in the last election, the push for this policy, the catalyst of voter ID is not about ensuring a safe and secure democratic process, but rather focused on shutting out those who have no ID and are unable to afford the cost of ID from the process to voting. Notably, 25% of voters do not hold any form of ID. It is not to address voter fraud, which is not a meaningful or significant problem in British voting, but instead, is connected to the idea of moving towards mass surveillance and voter control.
Building off of prior policies the government has put into force, such as that of reform of judicial review and the continuation of the policing bill to silence protests, this represents a dangerous and worrying move towards the undemocratic. Before becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson denounced the idea of voter ID cards, voting against them consistently 12 times between 2005-2006. Voter ID is voter suppression designed to target the poor, non-Tory and, most disturbingly, ethnic minorities. There is no other reason for it to be implemented. This stands as an assault on voter freedom and the democratic process, deliberately orchestrated to disenfranchise poorer and ethnic minority voters, while strengthening the Conservative voter base and their hold on power.