Queen Speech 2021: Electoral Integrity Bill
The Queen’s Speech sets out what legislative plans the government want to pursue over the next parliamentary year.
Electoral Integrity Bill
The Electoral Integrity Bill, as it is provisionally known, will seek to introduce new requirements for voting in UK parliamentary elections. This would involve showing ID before being given your ballot paper. The government wishes to introduce this to help combat voter fraud throughout the UK. According to the government, this would "tackle electoral fraud" and give voters "confidence that their vote is theirs, and theirs alone". It also plans to extend this new requirement for all elections across the UK. This bill has yet to be voted on in parliament but with a strong conservative majority, it will likely come into law unless it is opposed by significant opposition within the Conservative Party.
Currently in Great Britain voters are not required to present any form of ID before casting their vote. They do need to be registered to vote but this does not require proof of ID on polling day. However, in Northern Ireland voters must provide ID before receiving a ballot paper. This was introduced in the 1983 General Election. Since 2003 photographic ID has been required before polling station voters are issued with a ballot paper.
How it could Work
Many of the recommendations so far put forward to the Bill have suggested that a system throughout the UK follow a similar path to that in Northern Ireland. This could involve the following forms of ID being accepted on polling day.
UK, Irish of European driving licence
Electoral identity card – A free card issued by the electoral authorities to enable people to access their vote without the need for the other forms of ID
Ministry of Defence identity cards
Various passes given
Why the government believe voter ID is necessary
The government’s main argument for introducing voter ID is to protect voters from having their vote stolen. They believe that “in our current electoral system, there is inexcusable potential for someone to cast another’s vote at the polling station. All you need to do is say a name and address when you go to vote”.
The government believes that such measures will give greater confidence to the electorate that their vote matters and isn’t at risk of being stolen.
The government also points out that this has been the case in Northern Ireland since 1985 and no real change of voter turnout or suppressed voter turnout. The system in Northern Ireland has been largely a success describing the new “gold standard” of voter protection though challenges remain in proxy and postal voting.
The criticism against voter ID
Voter ID is very much a contested issue with some strong critics. The main argument against voter ID is that it can potentially deter voters and even targets some voters to discourage them from voting.
According to official figures, 3.5 million people do not have access to photo ID in the UK and 11 million don’t have a passport or a driving licence. As well as this ethnic minorities are more likely to not possess a form of accepted voter Identification. This then could potentially disenfranchise some of the electorate that would usually be able and willing to vote. The Electoral Reform Society has raised their concerns over potential voter ID, describing it as a “Barrier to democracy” as even free ID cards still require people to take time off work and travel all to secure a right they already have. David Davis described the plans as an “illiberal solution in pursuit of a non-existent problem” and urged the government to drop its “pointless proposals”.
The cost of the program has also been raised as a concern with an expected cost of around £20 million per year. A large sum of money that some believe doesn’t need to be spent.
Others have also pointed out that the rules to protect voters simply aren't needed. In the 2019 general election, there were only 164 reported cases of electoral fraud. Furthermore, out of all cases of electoral fraud 64% of cases result in no further action 33.6% are locally resolved and only 1.5% result in a court hearing caution or conviction. Many have argued that this reflects the impossibility to seriously affect an election through voter fraud. It would require fraud on a massive scale and would need to target areas of the country that will be close in the election without knowing the actual result.
Impact on youth voting in UK elections
The new potential voter ID wouldn’t directly disadvantage young people more than the rest of the population. However, younger people who may have recently turned 18 may be without a form of ID, adding a further barrier to using their vote.
In Northern Ireland, there hasn’t been any noticeable change in youth turnout. Furthermore, it is argued that young people are used to having to carry some form of identification either for the purchase of age-restricted items or for their Colleges and Universities. However, this does potentially neglect the Youth who may not have access to forms of identification, though the scheme will offer a free ID service it is another potential barrier to voter turnout.
Sam Ward, Policy & News Associate