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19.05.17

Mandatory voter ID checks ‘like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’

Experts have slammed the Conservatives manifesto pledge to make voters have to show ID to be able to vote in elections across the UK.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) said that the decision, which Theresa May’s party says is being brought in to stop voter fraud, is “overbearing and counterproductive”.

May’s manifesto states: “The British public deserves to have confidence in our democracy. We will legislate to ensure that a form of identification must be presented before voting, to reform postal voting and to improve other aspects of the elections process to ensure that our elections are the most secure in the world.

“We will retain the traditional method of voting by pencil and paper, and tackle every aspect of electoral fraud.”

But today, Katie Ghose, chief executive of the EFS, warned that implementation of the policy would be like “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

“There is simply not enough evidence of voter fraud in the UK to justify such a dramatic change to Britain’s democratic traditions,” she said. “The introduction of voter ID is something that has to be thought about very carefully – because there’s a substantial risk that this could raise barriers to participation and put people off voting.”

Ghose added that there was clear evidence that strict voter ID rules had put some people in the US, including ethnic minority and marginalised voters, at a disadvantage.

“The UK has an international reputation for running elections with integrity and openness,” she added. “It would be wrong to risk throwing that reputation away by making it harder for people to vote, without thinking about the consequences or how to improve our democracy and turnout alongside it.”

The ERS boss stated that there were other options that could be introduced to limit fraud that didn’t damage voter participation. Clearer guidance and better training of election staff and returning officers are changes everyone can get behind, she explained, while other suggestions to introduce “stronger powers against voter intimidation and to make it easier to launch ‘election petitions’ to report fraud are very much worth discussing”.

“Let’s look at more positive reforms before making overbearing and counterproductive changes that raise barriers to our democracy,” Ghose concluded.

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