This week, we have heard that the Government is planning to introduce compulsory photo ID for voters for all future parliamentary and English local elections.
This would mean that in order to vote someone would need to bring with them photo ID. Stonewall, along with many others, are concerned about some of the unintended consequences compulsory photo ID would have on people’s ability to have their voices heard in an election.
In principle, voter ID regulations are meant to crackdown on electoral fraud. However, there’s very little evidence that electoral fraud is enough of a problem to justify implementing compulsory photo ID.
In 2016, out of nearly 64 million votes, there were only 44 allegations of fraud. That’s just one case for every 1.5 million votes cast.
In the more recent local government elections, the Government piloted a voter identification scheme in Woking, Gosport, Bromley, Watford and Swindon. The results of which led to more than an estimated 700 people being denied a vote for not having the right ID.
The Electoral Commission further revealed that 3.5 million people (7.5 per cent of the electorate) in Britain do not have access to any form of photo ID. Getting access to approved ID can be very difficult for minority groups, including trans, BAME, disabled, and homeless people. It is also a complicated and costly process.
A provisional driving licence can cost £32, while a passport is £72.50. For a homeless person who has lost their ID, applying for and being able to afford new ID represents a challenge that many won’t be able to overcome.
The reality is voter ID schemes create barriers to voting that disproportionately disenfranchise minority groups whose voices deserve to be heard.
The LGBT community is an incredibly diverse group that of course includes BAME, older, disabled, homeless, and trans people. LGBT people make-up part of those 3.5 million people who do not have photo ID and could be denied their vote at the polling station if this proposal becomes a reality.
BAME and diasporic activists in Britain have voiced their concerns about how such voting restrictions hurt ethnic minority groups. These concerns have been raised in other countries. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision to strike down a North Carolina voter ID law that unfairly targeted ‘African-Americans with almost surgical precision.’
In addition, trans people could be particularly vulnerable to compulsory photo ID. Trans people may not have photo identification that reflects their gender expression and/or identity. This is likely to lead to confusion or challenges from staff at polling stations, if or when an election is called. Even if trans people have registered to vote with their correct details, they may be challenged by staff if the name on their ID differs from that of their Deed Poll.
As Sir Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote said: ‘The nation’s democratic priority, particularly now, must be getting people registered to vote.’
Compulsory photo ID would affect many members of the LGBT community when it comes to voting. We’re urging the Government to reconsider this proposal and take steps to develop programmes that help – not hinder – the number and diversity of people voting in elections.