A Stop the Elections Bill Protest in Parliament Square in Feb 2022. Photo by Guy Bell/Shutterstock
Trans, disabled, or elderly people and Muslims are all at risk of being unable to vote in the upcoming election thanks to the government’s new voter ID law requiring photo identification at the polling booth.
With less than a month until May’s local elections, campaigners have sounded the alarm and warned that not only will some marginalised groups be less likely to have photo ID, they may even face barriers at the polling station.
May’s elections will be the first in England where photo ID is required to vote. Up to 2 million people have no valid form of ID for voting, but at the time of writing only 56,000 had applied for the government’s free voter authority certificate.
The Elections Act 2022 was passed after the Electoral Commission recommended voter ID at polling stations to fix an “actual and perceived” weakness in the voting process, with the government saying the measure will “strengthen the integrity of the electoral process”. However, its critics have branded it “voter suppression” against a backdrop of a single conviction for voter impersonation in the 2019 general election.
As polling day closes in, concerns have intensified that the most vulnerable will be unable to vote.
Trans people ‘will be hit hard’ by new voter ID measures
The requirement for photo ID poses a challenge for those who no longer match the picture on their existing documents, and in particular trans people.
Cleo Madeleine, spokesperson for Gendered Intelligence, told The Big Issue: ”These laws aren’t about safety – they’re about stopping the most marginalised members of our society from exercising their right to vote.
“Trans people will be hit hard by these changes as many in our community don’t have access to photo ID or the resources to acquire it,” Madeleine said.
“Trans people may have driving licences with out-of-date names or gender markers, or with old photographs. As a demographic we also tend to be lower income and to suffer disproportionately from housing insecurity. The combination of these factors means that trans people are more likely to have no valid ID or to have their ID challenged, and simultaneously to not have the money or supporting documents to obtain new ID or update existing ones. This creates a vicious circle where trans people find it harder to participate in society; a situation that voter ID laws will only aggravate.”
These problems will also affect other marginalised groups, said Madeleine: “We’re not alone in this – low income families, people in precarious housing, and young people will all face similar barriers. These are unfair rules designed to shore up an unfair system.”
The new voter ID laws will put ‘yet another barrier’ in the way of disabled people
One part of the new Elections Act, which introduced the requirement for voter ID alongside other measures in 2022, involved making it easier for people with disabilities to vote. It has removed restrictions on who can accompany them as a “companion”, and has mandated new equipment at polling stations.
The government’s equality impact assessment said the act will have a “positive impact” on this section of society.
But people with disabilities are less likely to hold a recognisable photo ID, according to the government’s own research. And Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, has warned that the new law will simply make things harder.
We are extremely concerned that new electoral laws will have negative consequences for disabled citizens seeking to exercise their vote,” said Hadi.
“The new provisions on the need to produce photo ID will put yet another barrier in the way of many disabled people trying to use their vote. Millions of disabled people will not have a driving licence or passport, will find applying for a free photo ID challenging or may not even have heard of the new requirements.”
Hadi also said there were concerns that extra equipment may not be universally available.
“Polling stations are being asked to have a range of equipment that makes voting easier such as pen grips, tactile voting devices and tables at wheelchair height but it is not clear that voters can expect the full range of aids and equipment at every polling station,” said Hadi.
Elderly people ‘will be unable to apply for ID digitally’
Elderly people are the least likely to hold a form of photo ID. In particular, 91 per cent of those aged 85 or over have photo ID, compared with 99 per cent of those aged 18 to 29, according to government research.
Getting hold of a valid form of ID in time for polling day could prove a challenge for the millions of pensioners who are not online.
“At Age UK we are worried about the idea of introducing compulsory voter ID at polling stations because this risks being a barrier to some older people exercising their democratic right to vote,” Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told The Big Issue.
“We have previously warned that large numbers of older people don’t hold an accepted form of voter ID and highlighted the fact that many will struggle to access the application for a voter authority certificate. Over three million over 65s are not online, meaning a huge proportion will be unable to apply digitally.
“There is little time before the May elections and local authorities must make sure the changes are widely advertised and provide clear information about how to apply for a voter authority certificate offline, so that those who don’t use the internet and want to make an application aren’t excluded.”
Muslim women are ‘set to be disenfranchised’ without clear protocols around voter ID
When they go to the polling booth, Muslim women wearing face coverings will need to remove it to show they match their ID. The process will involve a privacy screen, and requires buying a mirror for all 40,000 polling stations.
But there are fears this protocol will not be clear or inclusive – putting Muslim women off casting their vote.
“Although Muslim voter awareness and participation has improved, there are several concerns around the introduction of voter ID requirements, all of which are especially acute when considering minority communities that may already be marginalised by our political system and disengaged from political engagement,” a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said.
“One such concern, for example, is whether any provisions currently exist for Muslim women who wear the niqab (face veil) that may enable them to readily cast their vote at the polling booth. Without a clear, inclusive protocol in place at polling stations, veiled British Muslim women are set to be disenfranchised from casting their vote altogether.”
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