The controversial proposals, which form part of the Boris Johnson’s Elections Bill, introduced to Parliament yesterday, would require voters at polling stations to produce photo ID before being able to vote.
The move has sparked concerns that millions of people could be turned away for lacking the required identification.
The Electoral Reform Society says the government’s own figures have suggested roughly 2.1 million people could be unable to vote in a General Election due to not having recognisable photo ID, and its own research has found that 56 per cent of those surveyed would be “unlikely or very unlikely” to apply for a free elector card.
A further 42 per cent of those with no photo ID said they would be “unlikely or very unlikely” to apply for the card to allow them to cast a ballot.
The Bill has already attracted opposition from across the House of Commons with Conservative MP David Davis calling it “an illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem” and Labour’s Cat Smith, Shadow Secretary of State for Young People and Democracy, saying the government was “trying to change the rules and rig our democracy in their favour”.
Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, which has been a leading campaigner against the plans, said the Bill showed “the government’s total reckless approach to protecting our democracy. Voter ID poses an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality.”
She added: “Millions of people lack photo ID in this country. These proposals will make it harder to vote for huge numbers of voters, locking ordinary people out of our democracy and unfairly discriminating against those who lack ID.“Groups representing millions of people – from homelessness charities, older persons’ groups, LGBT+ campaigners and civil liberties activists – are sounding the alarm about these plans. Ministers must now think again on these dangerous proposals and focus on combating the real threats to our democracy – rather than restricting the right to vote.”
Currently, voters need to only give their name and address to be able to vote, but the UK government claims additional measures are required to make the system fairer by tightening the rules for absent voting and to prevent voter intimidation and fraud.
The Bill will also ban party campaigners from handling postal votes, "put a stop to postal vote harvesting and make it an offence for a person to attempt to find out or reveal who an absent voter has chosen to vote for”.
Postal vote harvesting occurs when one person collects and hands in ballot papers from multiple different people.
Chloe Smith, minister for the Constitution and Devolution said that the “robust package of measures” would “stamp out the space for such damage to take place in our elections again and give the public confidence that their vote is theirs and theirs alone – no matter how they choose to cast it."
The ERS has now relaunched a petition to scrap the plans.