On Tuesday (7 September 2021), the House of Commons debated the Second Reading of the Government’s Elections Bill. The Bill would make a number of changes to the regulation of UK elections such as introducing a requirement to show ID to vote and curtailing the Electoral Commission’s remit. While the Minister defended these changes as necessary to remove the risk of fraud and make the Electoral Commission more accountable to MPs, I was not convinced by the case she made and I have a number of concerns with the Bill as it stands. I therefore voted against its Second Reading.
Where there are examples of voter fraud, such as in Northern Ireland, it is right and proper that it is tackled. However, there is no evidence of this being an issue in Great Britain, so in my view voter ID is wholly unnecessary. There have been four cases of proven fraud in the past 10 years, in which time 243 million votes were cast. To put that number into context, someone is more likely to be struck by lightning three times than to impersonate someone else when voting. It is also concerning that the requirement to show voter ID discriminates against some groups more than others, including ethnic minorities and younger people. For those who may not be in a financial position to afford the cost of ID documents, the effect of this Bill will be to erect a paywall to the ballot box. In short, the Tories’ proposals would create a barrier to legitimate voters’ ability to vote.
Nor is that the only concern raised with the Bill. My Labour colleague Cat Smith MP and Shadow Minister likened the changes to the remit of the Electoral Commission to party political interference in the regulation of our elections. This echoes evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee from a senior lawyer, who argued that these provisions breach international law and the UK’s constitutional standards. I was also unconvinced by the Government’s motivation in removing the 15-year limit on Britons overseas voting. There is nothing in this legislation that will help overseas electors get their postal ballots back in time to be counted. Many people will therefore be unable to exercise the new rights the Government claims the Bill bestows. This provision appears to have been included in the Bill as cover to give overseas donors the ability to continue donating to parties beyond the 15-year limit.
I believe this Bill was a huge missed opportunity to modernise our electoral law to bring it into the 21st century and encourage people to participate in our democracy. Indeed, our democracy is stronger when more people take part.
Frankly, I am shocked that in the middle of a global pandemic the Government has spent its time writing legislation to restrict democracy and rig elections in favour of the Conservative Party. It is an absolute disgrace.