MPs have backed the bill to make voter ID mandatory in elections.
The widely-condemned Elections Bill, which will force voters to present photo ID before they can take part at the ballot box, passed by 325 votes to 234 at its third reading in the Commons.
Critics campaigning against the new laws say it will make it more difficult for marginalised people – including those living in poverty, people experiencing homelessness, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ communities and disabled people, who are less likely to have or afford documentation – to participate in democracy.
“This is a bad bill,” said Alex Norris, Labour’s shadow minister for levelling up. “It is full of solutions in search of problems.
“Rather than opening up our democracy to greater participation, it will do the opposite, all the while further weakening our democracy to dodgy finance.”
Opposition MPs have long demanded the government proves the necessity of the voter ID requirement, with just two people convicted for voter fraud at polling stations in the 2017 and 2019 elections. Labour previously accused Boris Johnson’s cabinet of trying to “choose the voters”.
“It is conventional to call it Trumpian, but it is not even that,” Norris added. “It is the sort of partial nonsense that can be seen in US statehouses: partisan leaders who just cannot help themselves, gerrymandering and seeking to tilt election outcomes by putting their thumb on the scale.
“You are more likely to have been struck by lightning three times than have voted after a phony voter” based on 2019 data, he said.
The public administration and constitutional affairs committee urged ministers to pause the new legislation last month after investigating the bill and concluding that the case made for voter ID had “simply not been good enough”.
The bill will also give the government more power over the elections watchdog, allowing ministers to decide the Electoral Commission’s priorities.
Labour’s amendment to lower the voting age to 16 in UK parliamentary elections was defeated by 327 votes to 236.
Green MP Caroline Lucas described the latest Commons vote on the bill – its final stage with MPs before moving to the House of Lords for further scrutiny – as “deeply depressing”.
“Our attempt to remove the provisions for mandatory voter ID have been defeated – so government succeeds in making it harder for already disenfranchised communities to vote,” she said.
“A ‘solution’ for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Ministers said they would instruct local authorities to distribute free voter cards to those without ID but has not set out detailed funding plans for the scheme.
The bill would affect UK-wide elections, local elections in England, and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales.
A voter ID requirement was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003, resulting in a 2.3 per cent drop in turnout the following year. The government should expect a similar effect across the UK if the current proposals are passed into law, MPs warned last month, potentially locking one million people out of casting their votes.
The government plans triggered a number of campaigns and petitions to stop the legislation in its tracks, including the Hands Off Our Vote initiative.
“An extra half hour of bureaucratic nonsense makes it that much harder to go and vote and could easily mean hundreds of thousands miss out on their chance to have a say,” founder Freddie Mallinson told The Big Issue.
“I just don’t see the justification or rationale without concluding they’re passing a law they believe will benefit them and their political careers.
“This law disgusts me on every level.”
The government is “committed to increasing participation in our democracy and empowering all those eligible to vote to do so in a secure, efficient and effective way,” said Kemi Badenoch, minister for levelling up communities.
“An important part of that is ensuring that electoral services – be they registering to vote, applying for an absent vote or applying for a voter card – are as convenient and accessible as possible.”