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Voter ID law must be shown to be necessary and proportionate

2 September 2021

The Government must do more to demonstrate the need for voter ID and mitigate the potential barriers to voting its proposals may create. The findings come in a report published today by the Joint Committee on Human Rights following legislative scrutiny of the Elections Bill.

The Government’s Elections Bill will require voters to produce photographic ID at the polling station. Whilst the Government’s list of acceptable forms of ID has been widely drawn, it is estimated that over 2 million people will not have an acceptable form of ID and so will have to apply for a free voter card or lose the ability to vote at the polling station. These proposals are aiming to reduce fraud at polling stations, however the recorded instances of such fraud are rare.

The impact of the proposals may fall disproportionately on some groups with protected characteristics under human rights law. Older people and disabled people are less likely to have photo ID and some groups such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities may be hesitant to apply for the Voter Card. The Committee calls on the Cabinet Office to produce clear research setting out whether mandatory ID at the polling station could create barriers to taking part in elections for some groups and how they plan to mitigate this risk effectively.

The Committee also calls on the Government to consider introducing automatic voter registration to ensure those who are entitled to vote can do so.

More detail is needed on how the proposed Voter Card will operate in practice. The Committee calls on the Government to ensure that the document is easily obtainable by anyone who wants one. It must avoid any incidental costs or other barriers, such as a requirement to attend issuing offices in person. The Government must also work with the Electoral Commission to produce detailed plans for how they will promote the Voter Card scheme and encourage individuals to take part, including specific focus on marginalised groups.

Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP said:

“The Government has a duty to ensure everyone can vote and no one prevented from voting by discrimination and also that elections are free from fraud. However current proposals which would prohibit voting without Voter ID may deny the right to vote from large numbers of electors, and could have a discriminatory impact. The Government must explain how these measures are both necessary and proportionate given the low numbers of recorded instances of fraud at polling stations.

“The Government must prove that the need for people to get a Voter ID card does not act as a deterrent to voting. In particular they must demonstrate an understanding, so far lacking, of the impact of these measures on marginalised groups and show how they plan to ensure access to the ballot box for all.“

Further information

Image: PA