Ministers are expected to confirm later this week that voters in future UK general elections will have to display photo ID in order to address the issue of electoral fraud. The proposal is planned to be announced during the Queen’s speech on 11 May 2021, which will also set out the government’s legislative plans and post-Covid priorities for the next parliamentary session.
Critics of the proposed change have claimed that it could prevent lower-income and ethnic minority voters from participating in elections. A government report into previous pilot studies that trialled compulsory voter ID estimated that if the measure was brought in and limited to passports and photographic driving licenses, ‘almost a quarter of the electorate’ would be left ‘without acceptable photo ID’.
To address this, the government said that people would be able to apply for a temporary ID card from local councils for the purpose of voting in an election. However, the process of applying would need to be completed before polling day.
An additional voting reform mooted by the government will see a limit imposed on the number of postal votes that can be submitted on the behalf of other individuals. Ministers have said that the reforms intended to diminish the potential risk of electoral fraud, though the Electoral Commission has said that the ‘UK has low levels of proven electoral fraud’. In 2019, 595 cases of alleged electoral fraud were investigated by UK police forces. Of these cases, four led to a conviction and two individuals received police cautions.
According to a previous government report, the issue of electoral fraud in the UK was raised in 2016 by Sir Eric Pickles in a report named ‘Securing the Ballot’. Sir Pickles’s report claimed that ‘existing rules for voting had the potential to be abused, and to undermine the integrity of the electoral process’. The government then established pilot schemes to trial different methods of implementing identification in the voting process across several elections in the following years.
The proposed changes would affect UK-wide and English elections. Voters in Northern Ireland are also required to show identification prior to casting a ballot.