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Politics

Voter ID bill slammed as ‘a paywall to the ballot box’

Opposition MPs said a person is “more likely to be struck by lightning three times” than fall victim to electoral fraud

Labour has accused Boris Johnson of trying to “choose the voters” through a planned voter ID law, labelling it a “paywall to the ballot box”.

MPs are debating the controversial plans pushed through parliament as part of the Elections Bill, which received its second reading in parliament today.

“In this bill, the leaders would like to choose the voters,” Cat Smith, Labour’s shadow minister for democracy, said in the House of Commons.

“I believe the voters should choose the leaders of their country.”

Through the Elections Bill, ministers hope to make it mandatory for people to show photo ID before casting a vote at their local polling station.

But the legislation has come under fire from across the political spectrum for its potential to lock homeless, elderly and poor people out of elections.

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There have been four convictions for voter impersonation fraud in the past decade, Smith told MPs.

“You’re more likely to be struck by lightning three times,” she said. “Ministers are living in an alternate reality where people are constantly trying to impersonate their neighbours to steal a single vote.

“This bill is a paywall to the ballot box.”

The MP said the bill was “riddled with cheap attempts to dodge scrutiny” and that the proposed laws were designed to increase the Conservative majority in parliament.

“You wouldn’t allow an arsonist to decide the strategy of the fire brigade,” Smith said. “You certainly wouldn’t let shoplifters decide the policy direction of the police. It does seem a little bit odd.

“Disabled people, older people, younger people and people without spare cash are going to be disenfranchised.”

The shadow democracy minister said free voter cards – which the government said would be handed out by councils to those without other kinds of ID – would be an “expensive waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary David Davis said voter ID was “an illiberal solution in search of a non-existent problem”.

But Chloe Smith, Cabinet Office minister, told the Commons that “fraudulent criminality is a very real threat to the integrity of elections”.

The Conservative MP referred repeatedly to an electoral fraud scandal in the 2014 Tower Hamlets mayoral vote, after which former mayor Luftur Rahman was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices.

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Smith hit back at Labour suggestions the Elections Bill would restrict the number of people who are able to vote in elections, saying: “The Labour Party [has its] own murky interests in making this up and misrepresenting this bill.”

Making photo ID necessary to take part in elections risks excluding people who are homeless from “exercising their democratic right”, Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs for Crisis, told The Big Issue.

Homelessness strips people of their safety and security,” he added. “When you are living on the streets, in a hostel or going from sofa to sofa, accessing, or keeping a hold of important documents can be a struggle, with them often lost or stolen. Replacing them can be costly and often simply out of reach for many people we work with.   

“Being able to vote is one of the ways we all participate in our society and this should be no different for people experiencing homelessness. Legally requiring voters to show photo ID puts this in jeopardy. 

“We urge the Government to either drop these plans or put in place a comprehensive outreach plan to make sure everyone is able to vote.”  

MPs will later vote on the bill and, if it passes, it will move to the committee stage for further scrutiny.

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