Voter ID: Democratic Participation

Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons on 22nd April 2021.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

What recent assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the potential effect of Government plans to mandate voter ID in future elections on levels of democratic participation in the UK.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The commission’s independent evaluation of the Government’s pilots held in 2018 and 2019 found that a large majority of people already had access to the forms of ID used in the pilots. There was no evidence that turnout in the pilot scheme areas was significantly affected by the requirement for polling station voters to show identification. The commission emphasised that the UK Government and Parliament should carefully consider the available evidence about the impact and proportionality of different approaches on the accessibility and security of polling station voting. If legislation is brought forward, the commission will provide expert advice to parliamentarians on the specific proposals.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Member for that answer. Notwithstanding the commission’s findings, though, it is estimated that it would cost something in the region of £20 million to introduce a measure such as this and there is always the risk of depressing voter turnout. Would he impress on the commission that, if that money is there to be spent, it would be better spent encouraging voter turnout, rather than on measures such as this, which I contend would inevitably depress it?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. The commission has a responsibility to maximise voter participation as well as to maintain free and fair elections. I will certainly impress on the commission the necessity of getting the balance right between those two responsibilities.