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In the most recent Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson’s government announced their intention to introduce a bill which would require voters to produce photo ID at polling stations. This will be mandatory at parliamentary and local elections. Photo ID has been used in Northern Ireland since 2003 and has been trialled at recent local elections in areas across the UK.
The government has said that they intend for this bill to reduce voter fraud, therefore improving the integrity of elections. However, opponents criticise this as an unnecessary and wasteful bill. They suggest that parliamentary time would be better used on other issues which have been side-lined as a result of Brexit and Covid.
Furthermore, the proposals are estimated to cost an extra £20 million per election cycle. These claims are based on figures from the Electoral Commission which found that of 595 cases of alleged voter fraud at the 2019 election investigated by police, there were four convictions and two police cautions. Supporters of the change suggest that these figures are not truly representative of the levels of voter fraud because the practice is so easy to get away with.
Opponents to the Bill criticise the legislation because of the current cost required to obtain a photo ID. This could prevent certain communities from voting. This will most prominently affect working class voters and minority communities. There has been suggestions that this would create a voting group which would be more likely to vote Conservative.
However, recent changes to the electoral map suggests that this might not be the case, as working-class voters have moved towards the Conservatives because of their Brexit stance, with constituencies such as Blyth Valley becoming Conservative for the first time. The requirement of photo ID would almost certainly affect the LGBTQ+ community, specifically non-binary or transgender voters as the photo or gender marker may differ from the presentation of the individual. Therefore, the introduction of photo ID could increase discrimination by outing trans individuals against their own will.
The introduction of this legislation reveals tensions over the ideology of the Conservative Party. In recent years, the party has been dominated by the agenda of the European Research Group which is largely neo-liberal. They were responsible for removing Theresa May from power and installing Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Historically, neo-liberals have rejected any form of mandatory ID, notably through their opposition to the 2006 Identity Cards Act. This is because they viewed the law as the state infringing on individual freedoms which is arguably the most important issue for neo-liberals. The Act was consequently repealed in 2011 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition.
Furthermore, in the past year there has been a continual debate over vaccine passports or an alternative document which would track an individual’s Covid status. The government has been keen to avoid being involved in the issue, with a hazy position. Therefore, many see it as counterintuitive for them to introduce a law which would require all adults to have a form of photo ID given that they historically opposed a law which had similar aims. Additionally, they more recently opposed the creation of a new form of ID.
The law in respect to voter ID will be the UK’s contribution to a global debate over voting rights which originates in the United States. While it faces strong opposition, it is likely to pass due to the enormous Conservative majority in the House of Commons.
It will face no opposition in the House of Lords, as it was part of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto and this means that the Lords cannot legitimately block it. Therefore, the questions surrounding voter ID are whether it will mark a change in jeopardising voting rights in the UK, or reveal levels of voter fraud which had previously gone unnoticed