If you haven't heard the news, the UK government has mandated identification when voting in elections. It's a change from just giving your name and address at the polling station and receiving your ballot.
Some may believe this new requirement is in response to a wave of election fraud across the country, and that it's a move to shore up election integrity. However, reality tells a different story.
The Electoral Commission has reported that in the past five years, there is no evidence of large-scale voter fraud. In fact, on their website, they state:
"Of the 1,386 cases of alleged electoral fraud reported to the police between 2018 and 2022, 9 led to convictions and the police issued 6 cautions. Most cases either resulted in the police taking no further action or were locally resolved by the police issuing words of advice."
So why all this effort to combat a non-issue? Well, if you weren't aware of the ID requirements, you have almost certainly missed (but might not be surprised by) the news that the list of accepted IDs heavily skews towards the elderly and actively discriminates against young people. It then makes more sense.
Let's take a look at some of the permitted forms of local travel photographic ID:
- Older Person's Bus Pass funded by the Government of the United Kingdom
- Disabled Person's Bus Pass funded by the Government of the United Kingdom
- Oyster 60+ Card funded by the Government of the United Kingdom
- Freedom Pass
- Scottish National Entitlement Card
- 60 and Over Welsh Concessionary Travel Card
- Disabled Person's Welsh Concessionary Travel Card
- Senior SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
- Registered Blind SmartPass or Blind Person's SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
- War Disablement SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
- 60+ SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
- Half Fare SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland
Notice the absence of any form of young person's railcard, student ID or the 18+ student Oyster card, despite requiring exactly the same documentation to obtain them as their older counterparts. Perhaps this is just an oversight? The government isn't exactly renowned for its organisational prowess nowadays, maybe they just forgot?
That's a generous take, but it doesn't stand up to reality. The government actually rejected a House of Lords amendment to allow those youth-orientated forms of ID to be permitted. Why?
"The Commons consider the requirement to provide adequate photographic identification to be the most effective means of securing the integrity of the electoral system."
How does one form of Oyster card risk election integrity while another is fine? I don't know, and the government hasn't seen fit to answer.
Perhaps it's because statistically, young people are less likely to vote Conservative than older demographics. YouGov surveys have consistently shown that young people skew heavily towards left-leaning parties, and that the population becomes more likely to vote Conservative as they get older. Moreover, the voter turnout of those 65 and above is much higher than those aged 18-24.
Given the government's propensity for totally disregarding the views of young people, it's not surprising that they would make moves to further silence that voice. But the insidious action goes further.
Also included as acceptable forms of ID are driving licences and passports, which can cost £43 and £93 respectively. That was hardly cheap before a cost-of-living crisis and completely unnecessary if you have no intention of driving or travelling.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that low-income adults are statistically less likely to have a valid form of photographic ID, and these measures would likely exclude 1.7 million low-income voters. These are people who have been hit hardest by years of wage stagnation, inflation, the cost of living crisis, and malicious assault on the benefits system by successive DWP ministers.
This is nothing but voter suppression. It's a deliberate attempt to create unnecessary obstacles that prevent certain demographic groups from exercising their democratic right to demand change. Given the government's crackdown on civil liberties, it's hardly surprising that they would want to further silence dissenting voices.
Contrary to the government's claim that this move will increase election integrity, we are likely to see a decline in election participation, which will only weaken democracy. Local elections in England are already plagued by abysmally low turnouts of around 30%. By increasing bureaucracy, cost, and voting requirements, the government is only going to make the situation worse. Moreover, young people, who are already disengaged, will be further excluded from the democratic process. For instance, in general elections, voters aged 65 and above have an average turnout rate of 73.81%, while voters aged 18-24 have a turnout rate of only 55.74%.
The government's decision is not only cynical but also disgusting. It's a desperate ploy by a government that's mired in sleaze, scandal, and sycophancy, and is struggling to maintain its hold on power. While there's little that can be done for the local elections today, young people need to turn up at the polling stations during the next general election, which is widely anticipated in autumn 2024, and demonstrate that they won't be ignored.