The Lords were right to defeat Tory government’s ‘voter ID’ plan to nobble democracy

Voting: did either of these constituents bring photo ID to the polling station?

A Tory plan to restrict voting in general elections to people who have very specific forms of identification has been overturned in the House of Lords – after a Tory suggested an alternative.

Peers decided to widen the range of documents a person could present to get a ballot paper, saying the limited range suggested by the Tory government was too restrictive,

Conservative peer – and former minister – Lord Willetts said documents including library cards and workplace or student ID cards should be added to the list of approved forms of ID because government plans for people without approved ID to get a free photo card from their council would be expensive.

He expressed concern that “hundreds of voters per constituency” could be turned away from polling stations at the next election.

“Imagine if the outcome of the next election is a modest majority… where throughout the day the media story has been voters being turned away from polling stations,” he said.

“That seems to me a very significant political and constitutional risk that does need to be taken into account if this measure is introduced.”

The point is a good one, although it fails to appreciate that the Tories want to introduce voter ID because they are losing voters and fear that, soon, they will only be able to win elections by ensuring that supporters of other parties – who may not have, or be able to afford, the prescribed forms of identification – can’t vote.

Trials in 2018 – in just five constituencies – led to 3,981 potential voters being turned away because they didn’t have the right ID (which isn’t the same as saying they were trying to commit fraud, of course).

Using that as an average figure, if the proposed restrictions had been applied across the UK, more than half a million people would have been denied their constitutional right. And that’s just in local elections that have a lower turnout than general elections.

If applied to general elections, it is thought that between one million and 3,5 million voters would be disenfranchised,

Let’s remember that the total number of voter fraud allegations in the 2017 general election was 28 – of which This Writer seems to recall only one was proved,

The list of those who would be turned away from polling stations includes young people, those with disabilities, ethnic minority communities, homeless people and transgender and gender non-conforming people, none of whom are normally expected to vote Conservative.

More than 40 charities, campaign groups and academics have called on the government to scrap its voter ID plan, including the Electoral Reform Society, Age UK, the RNIB, the Salvation Army, the British Youth Council, Stonewall, Operation Black Vote, Liberty, the National Union of Students and St Mungo’s.

The Tory government has ignored their concerns.

The cost to the public purse of preventing perfectly law-abiding voters from kicking the Tories out of office is projected to be £180 million per decade – £18 million a year,

Bear in mind that this plan will create a two-tier election system in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with some elections banning those without ID, and others remaining open and free.

Two sets of rules about how people take part would apply. Some people would be certain to become confused and fail to take ID – if they had it – meaning they would be excluded from voting in the Westminster election.

Other measures in the Tories’ corrupt Elections Bill – I call it the Voter Restriction Bill – include banning party campaigners from handling postal votes, and stopping people from collecting postal votes from people who are unable to get to post boxes and handing them in.

But the 15-year limit on overseas electors in UK general elections would be removed – to allow Tory donors to continue participating in elections.

The good news is that, as with their decision to upset plans in Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill, peers have made their changes close to the end of the current Parliamentary session.

This means Boris Johnson and his cronies must now decide whether to accept a compromise or risk losing their Bill altogether if “Parliamentary ping-pong” between the Commons and the Lords continues and their differences are unresolved when the session ends.

Let’s hope that happens and this Tory assault on democracy can be killed.

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