Who benefits most from voters having to show ID?

I had thought that the Vanquis advert would be the thing that would irritate me the most during this chilled out festive week. Even if you lay aside the fact that it’s advertising outrageously overpriced credit, the utter misogyny of the plot line should see its creators banished back to the 11th century where they belong.

But no, the Tories had something to seriously annoy me. Their plan to make voters show ID at polling stations in the name of “securing the ballot” is a thinly disguised attempt to skew the voting in their favour. Let me explain. If you are young or poor, you are less likely to be able to afford a passport or even a driving licence. Some don’t have a bank account. You may also not have your name on a utility bill. If you live at home with your parents, as many young people do, or if you are sharing a house with several others, you may simply not have the prescribed ID and will not be able to vote.

It’s as if there weren’t enough barriers already to young or poor people voting already. And these groups, shall we say, tend not to vote Conservative. Putting more obstacles in the way of these people casting a vote seems at best irresponsible.

It’s not even as if there is any evidence of a need to “do something.” The report on which the Government’s plans is based, drawn up by former Tory Minister Eric Pickles freely admits this:

Despite the low numbers of allegations and rare cases of personation being prosecuted, there is a concern that the absence of evidence does not mean this practice is not taking place. And even if it is not, there is a precautionary principle that comes into play in terms of the potential for it to happen.

In other words, there is no evidence of a problem, but they are going to try to fix one anyway. It’s kind of like when they make it seem like every second person claiming benefits is somehow doing so fraudulently, despite the evidence being very much to the contrary.

The solution proposed actually creates a bigger problem than the one it tries to solve. That is a much greater threat to democracy. And it benefits the Tories by suppressing the anti Tory vote. Those are just two reasons why Liberal Democrats should fight these plans if they should ever come before Parliament.

It’s just 19 months since the Tories won a majority in the Commons. In that time they have made several attempts to skew the political system in their favour. From English votes for English Laws to trying to curb Labour’s union funding without curbing their own business funding and deleting 1.9 million entries from the electoral roll against the advice of the Electoral Commission. All of these measures have been robustly opposed by the Liberal Democrats.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Whilst I agree that the proposal may skew results, in this day and age if a person cant prove their id to vote they are likely to have big problems at various other points.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Dec '16 - 11:35pm

    The Northern Irish system sounds good – free voting ID cards for those that don’t have an in-date driving licence or passport.

    I came across an unexpected problem recently when opening a bank account because my driving licence had my old address on it, but the principle of some sort of photo ID is good, I think.


    Link above is to the Northern Ireland card system.

  • Sad but not surprising to see the Tories follow the Republican voter suppression playbook from the US. I’m sure they’d gerrymander if they could.

  • There are 2 myths being propagated here. 1. The U.K. doesn’t have a problem with voter fraud and 2. Asking voters for ID is in some peculiar British way especially awful. I have been involved in UK elections where the election was lost due to personation and possibly ballot stuffing. I know this because tendered ballot papers were issued in the election concerned. ( that means that voters were denied votes because it was claimed they had already voted, i.e. someone had personated them). I have witnessed gross election abuse involving postal votes.
    In many countries including ones with much poorer people than the UK people not only have to produce ID but also have to sign for their votes. It doesn’t appear to stop them voting. The reason we don’t see more evidence about voter fraud is because you have to deposit £20,000 with the electoral court in order to even start a case and because the police often refuse to pursue a case even when it’s blatantly obvious fraud has occurred. Viz the postal vote fraud reported in the Sunday times in Leeds.
    I could go on. A lot of what is being said about this is naive nonsense. We should be focussing on free forms of voter ID, not trying to pretend there isn’t a problem.

  • Peter Davies 30th Dec '16 - 12:07am

    The worst cases of fraud all involve postal voting. Postal voters will obviously not be required to show ID.

  • Just before every election I get a polling card in the post, couldn’t this be used as identification? Not as good as photographic identification, but it would be an improvement to the current system. Also I would like less postal voting, which is wide open to abuse.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Dec '16 - 1:18am

    Mick , malc yes, we could indeed do with some id for the purpose of avoiding fraud . I agree that supplying a polling card and one other form of id , much wider , eg. a bank card , post office account book , the sort of ting the post office want to retrieve a parcel would be sufficient.

    I must say , Caron , to bring up English votes for English laws is a very red herring , though your reasoning about Tory power would be correct if that was the motive .

    As an English voter , the motive is to allow our laws that are only about the country that is England , to have only those English parliamentary representatives vote accordingly . Our parliamentary leadership under the former Scottish secretary were utterly out of touch on this issue .

    Think back to the yeas when Simon Hughes was advocating precisely that policy , and the argument is not one of Tory agrandisement , but English , and UK justice!

  • Jon. Taylor 30th Dec '16 - 5:44am

    Regarding voter fraud & ID cards I agree with the Northern Ireland proposal of isssuing free ID cards to those that cannot afford other forms of ID. I’m sure they may be a cost involved but it would obviously level the playing field & should be made available when individuals are registering for National Insurance. Therefore a totally bipartisan action.

  • I don’t doubt the veracity of what Mick Taylor says, but having been involved with elections for as long as he has electoral fraud is not something I have come across very often. The main incident was where the local Tories kept winning a marginal ward with an unusually large number of proxy votes, something that would not be covered by these proposals as far as I understand it. (The offence was eventually nailed onto them and we have won ever since). A massive input of resources would be necessary to give people who needed it a voter ID card (like myself: no passport, no driving licence, no credit card, utility bills in my partner’s name). It would be much more cost effective to put additional resources into the electoral registration offices of the places where fraud is suspected and to provide better training for Returning Officers, some of whom are currently not really on top of their remit.

  • jedibeeftrix 30th Dec '16 - 8:14am

    “And even if it is not, there is a precautionary principle that comes into play in terms of the potential for it to happen. In other words, there is no evidence of a problem, but they are going to try to fix one anyway.”

    Sounds like Lib-Dem policy on fracking.

    I dislike the precautionary principle in politics generaly, and both these two highlighted instances specifically.

  • While the evidence of fraud taking place now is limited, I don’t see a problem with taking reasonable measures to prevent it happening in the future, with the strong proviso that such measures do not disenfranchise anyone.

    If non-photo ID such as a utility bill is suggested as being acceptable, then a polling card should be equally acceptable as Malc says above.

    I do strongly suggest that we stay well away from anything called an “ID Card”, even if it is for the limited purpose of identification at a polling station.

  • Alex Macfie 30th Dec '16 - 9:48am

    @Lorenzo Cherin: English votes for English laws upsets the fundamental principle that Parliament is an “assembly of equals”. Even if there are valid reasons for implementing it, it’s a bad idea for that reason.

  • Pardon me for stating the obvious, but surely most of the young/poor people who might have been affected by this will already be among the 600,000 who vanished from the electoral register last year as a result of your coalition’s switch to individual voter registration.

  • The Canadian Tories tried a similar ploy a few years ago, the whole plan fell apart because it caused problems for people trying to vote who weren’t considered part of the problem of personation, etc, but as a consequence were denied a vote.
    The law of unintended consequences came into play because parliamentarians didn’t do their job.
    Where I live the is an old folks home, I doubt if any have driving licences or passports and will definitely not have utility bills. How will they be able to vote under these plans?

  • Andy,
    I’m sure they’ll be an exception for the over 65’s, perhaps a blue rosset will serfice. All this is are the Tories disenfrancing the poor, wrapped up in an excuse.

  • Like other LDV contributors I have in the past taken part in the supervision of elections overseas. I have to say that when one explains to one’s hosts that in the UK a voter can pitch up to a polling station with no ID it usually has them rolling in the aisles. For the very small number of people who have absolutely no form of ID I am sure we could come up with something that is short of a full blown national ID card complete with database.

    As John Hemming says personation has gone on for ages but myself I don’t believe it’s a huge problem. That said we should of course combat it as best we can. We also, thankfully, don’t have electronic voting either. However where I do believe there is a fraud issue of significance is the blanket postal voting system we now have where photo ID verification would not be possible. Personally I would go back to the previous system where postal votes had to be individually applied for when special circumstances apply.

    For me that would apply some ‘value’ to a vote in the same way as individual voter registration does. After all if you can’t be bothered to make sure you are on the electoral roll, despite the numerous benefits of doing so, are you going to be interested in much at all?

  • Until Blair came up with his ID Cards for All, which was dropped only after a long campaign and change of Government, the British Way was to believe people unless proven otherwise. I remember amazing a German friend by telling them that to marry in England, you need to solemnly declare who you were, but didn’t have to prove it with documents – in Germany it’s much more bureaucratic. Similarly to vote. ID Cards and the like are not British.

    Are we not still Liberals? Are we not still, echoing Harry Willcock, “against this sort of thing”?

    As to actual voter fraud, I agree with my old friend Tony Hill that the right way to deal with it is to put more resources into the electoral registration offices where fraud is suspected. Also to further tighten up Postal Voting, a much more likely source of voter fraud or coercion, yet which the Government’s proposal does nothing about.

  • @Andy Hyde
    “Where I live [there] is an old folks home… How will they be able to vote under these plans?”

    Don’t worry, the Tories will definitely come up with a solution for this particular demographic!

    I’m not opposed to voter ID in principle. It’s always struck me as odd that you can just walk in to a polling station, give your name and address, and vote. Is my vote really such a trivial thing that it should be easier for a fraudster to obtain than, say, a parcel held for me at the sorting office?

    On the other hand, the disenfranchisement of large swathes of the young, poor and ethnic minorities by the Lib Dem/Tory coalition was a disaster. We need compulsory registration.

  • Sorry, Caron, but I’m afraid I would have no objection whatsoever in showing ID when I vote, or when I travel in or out of the country.

    I would have to show ID to open a bank account, when I travel by air, or when I carry out any serious financial transaction. There are many much more serious issues than this one for the Liberal Democrats to campaign on, and I’ve got plenty more issues to fundamentally disagree with the Tories on.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Dec '16 - 12:51pm

    I have no problems with ID cards.

    Like Stuart I have great problems with the disenfranchisement of sections of the population who need to become more actively engaged.

    @ Stuart,
    Are there countries with compulsory registration? How does that work in practice?

  • Laurence Cox 30th Dec '16 - 1:27pm

    The incidence of electoral fraud is much more widespread than generally realised. Yes, we all know about Birmingham (thanks to John Hemming) and Tower Hamlets, but I am sure there is a good deal of low-level fraud going on that does not get reported to the police. Here is one anecdote from my own recent experience. I was telling on polling day in 2014 at a polling station in one of our target wards and the Labour workers there were being unusually hostile. At the Count, one of the other candidates (who had previously been one of our members but had changed party) told me that he had been told by his wife who had voted at that polling station earlier in the day, that Labour had been using one of their polling agents to tell people in the polling station who to vote for. Unfortunately she had not told him until he returned home after the polls closed. Because the polling agent was saying this in one of the sub-continent languages, the polling station staff had not realised what he was doing.

    I would want to see CCTV set up in all polling stations to provide an audit trail for any subsequent police investigation. This would also help in identifying cases of personation.

  • @Jayne
    I don’t know much about the systems used overseas, but it’s well known that voting is “compulsory” in Australia so I guess registration must be too.

    In practise this will still not mean 100% registration, let alone 100% voting, since some people will always slip through the net or think the risk of paying a (small) fine outweighs the hassle of going to vote. But according to the following article, in the most recent Australian parliamentary elections there was 95% registration and 92% turnout :-


  • Trefor Hunter 30th Dec '16 - 4:05pm

    How do we know that people with postal votes for their second homes aren’t voting twice in general elections? Marked registers would be required for both locations but how about a pilot in a particular Lib Dem target seat with many second homes/holiday cottages.

  • Surely one of the best bits of ID to have is a passport. Yes it has to be paid for but even at £72.50 that’s 14p per week over its ten year validity.

    Other than being a British citizen you don’t have to pass a test to get one and you don’t need to change it every time you move address. Since 2004 anyone born before 2nd September 1929 gets one for free. I have an elderly relative who is 88 years old and hasn’t left the country for years. However I have kept their passport valid purely for ID purposes.

    Perhaps a passport should be a standard Christmas gift for any young person. (£46)

  • Simon Banks 30th Dec '16 - 5:30pm

    Eddie’s point seems good. It has to be simple and strongly promoted. It should also be trialled in pilot areas (Birmingham?).

    If it’s left to voters to produce the sort of stuff that theoretically you need to collect a parcel from a Royal Mail sorting office, or actually to open a bank account, one consequence would be horrendous delays at polling stations during heavy general election voting as polling staff examined documents and got into arguments with angry voters about why certain things didn’t count.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Dec '16 - 9:04pm


    I understand your reason , and thus prefer an English parliament based in Nottingham !

  • Voting laws will always be a balance between preventing fraud and making it easy to participate. The US shows it’s easy to pass a seemingly reasonable law on voter ID, but then make the ID harder to obtain, or more expensive, or have your poll workers dispute the ID of people they think are on the other side. In other words, the crucial question is not the law but whether it’s administered in good faith.

  • @Robert – “Surely one of the best bits of ID to have is a passport. Yes it has to be paid for but even at £72.50 that’s 14p per week over its ten year validity. ”

    Yes, a passport makes a great ID document (that is it’s primary function after all!). But I don’t believe the Passport Office offers an easy payment scheme to spread the cost over 10 years. No one should be required to find a spare £72.50 to apply for a passport just so that they can exercise their right to vote.

    Any plan to tighten voter ID requirements must be freely and easily available to all at zero additional cost to the voter.

  • Jayne Mansfield 31st Dec '16 - 9:18am

    @ Stuart,
    Thank you for your response. I agree with your original post by the way.

    The number of people who fail to vote is a real concern. This is so whether they believe that ‘all parties are the same’ , or whether there is an even deeper apathy. I do not use the term apathy in a negative, judgemental way. I believe it to be a strategy that it entirely rational in the context of some peoples’ lives. It is the sad acceptance that one cannot change one’s life and therefore it is no point in trying.

    The term ID card makes many of us shudder, but having no form of identification also has disadvantages that go beyond entitlement to vote. The ‘slippery slope’ argument can on occasion lead to ludicrous inaction.

  • Well if Nick (above) wants to go down that route we could always give every British citizen a ‘free’ passport’ as of right. However of course nothing is free as, for instance, there are no such things as ‘free’ car parks, ‘free’ health care, ‘free’ education or ‘free’ anything else as someone, somewhere has to pay for it. That said it’s an idea worth considering.

    I do however take issue with the idea that, with a few exceptions, most people couldn’t find the cost of a passport from their discretionary spending. There are a number of things I would temporarily do without in order to maintain a piece of photo ID that is accepted across a wide range of activities and services, lasts a long time and doesn’t have an unacceptable or spooky database attached to it.

  • Julian Heather 31st Dec '16 - 3:46pm

    Stuart – In response to your comment, where you say:

    “Pardon me for stating the obvious, but surely most of the young/poor people who might have been affected by this will already be among the 600,000 who vanished from the electoral register last year as a result of your coalition’s switch to individual voter registration.”

    This was the reality (courtesy of Mark Pack, Feb 2015). It addresses your point.


  • Peter Andrews 31st Dec '16 - 4:03pm

    I do not have an in date passport, i do not drive so have no driving license. I do not receive utility bills and choose to have online bank statements. So I have no photo proof of ID (i do have a birth certificate but how does that prove I am the owner of said certificate?) or proof of address.

    I could just about reluctantly agree to a proof of address OR the polling card having to be presented to allow you to vote but there are still problems with this as I would be relying on the council managing to send out my polling card correctly and the Royal Mail actually delivering them in order to be able to vote.

    All of this ignores the fact that the part of our electoral system that is by far the most vulnerable to fraud is postal votes. If i wanted to I could apply for postal votes for all 4 people who live in our house and unbeknown to them vote on their behalf without anyone detecting a problem at least until it was too late and they were at the polling station wondering why they were not being allowed to vote. It would be much harder for me to do so in person as that would require the polling station staff not to notice I had been in the polling station to vote 4 times.

  • The disenfranchisement of young people is a bit iffy… To get an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant, young people ALREADY have to produce a photo ID, and only a passport, a driving license or a special ID card issued by the local authority for this purpose will suffice. My daughter was refused service when she tried to use her Spanish ID card — which is acceptable for international travel within the EU! She was 25 at the time and was rather annoyed…
    So, presumably only tee-total youngsters would be adversely impacted….

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