The Tories have been urged to stop the passage of the elections bill, which would risk “upsetting the balance” of Britain’s electoral system.
A cross-party group of MPs issued a call for the government to scrap plans to introduce voter identification, arguing it would make it more difficult for people to vote and decrease trust in the system.
The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee (PACAC) also expressed concern that the new bill will hand ministers more influence over the election watchdog.
Keeping out voters
A committee report released today said that when photographic identification was introduced at polling stations in Northern Ireland in 2003, the turnout at the following year’s elections saw a 2.3 per cent decline.
The report read: “Introducing a compulsory voter ID requirement risks upsetting the balance of our current electoral system, making it more difficult to vote and removing an element of the trust inherent in the current system.”
It also revealed the committee received several pieces of evidence from charities that voter ID requirements would keep out ethnic minorities, disabled people and transgender and non-binary voters.
“Given the barriers that already face disabled people while voting, [the charity] Sense is concerned that this could make it harder for some disabled people to vote. While the bill’s broad definition of photographic ID does partly mitigate the disproportionate effect on disabled people, any additional barrier could discourage more disabled people from getting involved in elections,” it said.
“The LGBT Foundation, for example, raised concerns about transgender voters and non-binary voters being able to access appropriate forms of ID. [The charity] Mermaids told us that they think that the introduction of voter ID would ‘act to indirectly disenfranchise many trans people in the UK’.”
Questionable solutions to potential voter fraud
Committee Chair William Wragg, said: “While seeking to secure UK elections from potential voter fraud is a noble cause, we remain unconvinced that the scale of the problem justifies the solutions as they have been put forward. When people can be blocked from voting because they have incorrect documentation, have misplaced it or they have none, we must make doubly sure that the costs of the measures are commensurate with the risk.
“Likewise, any government proposal which might directly or indirectly influence the independent regulator over its operations and decision-making will invite suspicion, especially when plans have been drawn up behind closed doors. The Electoral Commission must be impartial both in practice and in the public perception if it is to credibly maintain the integrity of our electoral system.”
Wragg added: “We feel that the elections bill proposals lack a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation, and transparency, all of which should be addressed before it makes any further progress. We cannot risk any reduction of trust in UK elections, which is why the majority of the committee is calling for the bill to be paused to give time for more work to be done to ensure the measures are fit for purpose.”