What is VoterID?
Voter ID laws are used throughout the world in a variety manners. These laws can determine the freedom and security to which citizens can exercise their right to vote, but they also have their critics. If UK law does change it would be one of the largest reforms since the 1918 Representation of the Peoples Act.
What is Voter ID?
Voter ID can be anything that establishes the identity of a person who wishes to vote, and types of voter ID can vary between countries and within countries.
Since the world has had democracy voter ID has been in place, in ancient Greece where voters had to prove they were a male citizen. Criticism of voter ID has also been around just as long ─ the theme of Aristophanes’ play The Assembly women, written in 391 B.C. explores how ID laws may be subverted.
In more modern times Swiss citizens in certain cantons (constituencies) must carry a ceremonial sword to be able to participate in debates and votes. Conventional methods of voter ID range from simply giving a name and address, producing your polling card or the requirement of photo ID. Advancements in technology are also developing how voters are identified, with Brazil using fingerprints to identify voters.
Voter ID in the UK
In England, Scotland and Wales voter ID is seen as relatively weak. Voters are only asked to state their name and address when they arrive at the polling station. This form of ID has long been the norm for elections and has long gone unchanged. In contrast Northern Ireland, due to political unrest in its past, voter ID is very strict and a photo ID card is required. This has been in place since 2002.
Reducing Voter Fraud?
In the last two years, the government has piloted the use of different forms of ID at local elections. This includes passports, driving licences, poll cards and bank statements. The government argues that ‘the pilots will provide further insight into how best to ensure the security of the voting process and reduce the risk of voter fraud’. The pilots themselves have, however, attracted controversy, as people in pilot areas have been turned away if they do not produce valid ID.
Data from the 2018 pilots show that whilst 1,000 people were initially told they didn’t have the correct ID, a vast majority of these people did then return with the correct form of ID and could exercise their vote. This led the Electoral Commission to conclude that these pilots did not significantly reduce electoral participation and the government calling it a ‘success’.
However, opponents have continued to voice criticism of these pilots. The Labour Party argued that voter ID schemes were ‘a huge threat to our democracy’ as it has blocked voters from getting to the polls.
Furthermore, some question the need for reform, as reports of personation (the crime of pretending to be someone else when voting) remain very low, with only 170 reports between 2010-2017. Introducing ID requirements nationwide is often seen as ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.
It has also been noted that, for example, people from low socio-economic backgrounds and the elderly may be more impacted by ID requirements than others. This is due to the affordability or level ownership of some forms of ID like passports. To combat this in Northern Ireland, a free electoral ID card is provided. Neither the government or the Electoral Commission have confirmed if a free ID would be in place if a new law is implemented. This being said a free certificate of identity could be obtained by voters in the pilot areas if they didn’t have the correct documents.
Whilst the purpose of this law is to give people greater faith in the secrecy, security and validity in their elections, if adequate provisions such as free ID or adequate voter education are not in place, changes to the process of voting could inadvertently cause people to be unable to cast their vote, which in turn could lead to a greater resentment of our democracy.