At the local elections last week there was a trial in five boroughs (fortunately not in ours!), where electors had to produce ID in order to vote. In three boroughs they had to produce photo ID or two documents from a prescribed list. Across the five areas nearly 4,000 people were turned away. Across these boroughs there had only been one reported case in the past of attempted identity fraud when voting. Clearly this is a classic case of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Guardian’s account can be read here and a report by the Electoral Reform Society can be found here.
To ask people to prove their identity in this country is not a simple thing as anyone who has tried to open a bank account will have found. Those who had a passport or driving licence and could find it were able to vote with ease but there are quite a lot of people who do not have such ID. According to the ERS report a police officer was refused the right to vote when he produced his police ID card! Those who don’t have a passport or driving licence are disproportionately poorer and less skilled so this could well be a cynical attempt to disenfranchise them.
I hesitate to raise the issue of national identity cards, which became such a mess during the Blair years but it seems to me that the only way that it could be justified to ask for photo ID at the polling station is if the government issue photo ID for free to everyone. I actually wouldn’t have a problem with this. When I lived in Algeria many years ago I had to have my ID with me at all times and it simply became part of life. When the Blair government was proposing the introduction of Identity cards I could see many advantages (such as possibly helping people open bank accounts!) but I wasn’t happy that they wanted to charge an extortionate fee. What I strongly object to is any suggestion that in order to vote in our democracy people might have to buy an expensive document or struggle to gather together various other proofs of who they are. To buy a UK passport at the moment is £75.50 and a driving licence is £34 and then there’s also the cost of the photos.
The experiment with voters needing to prove their identity has not gone well and is disproportionate to the alleged problem. It shouldn’t be repeated.