Friday, May 04, 2018

The effects of voter ID laws

Following the American lead, the right in both the UK and New Zealand are eager for voter ID laws, requiring people to prove their identity at the ballot box. Supposedly the justification for this is to prevent impersonation at the polling booth - a vanishingly rare crime. But what do such laws actually do? Prevent people entitled to vote from voting:

A trial of voter ID has seen people in England turned away from polling booths for the first time for not carrying the necessary documents, with other issues reported including abuse of voting staff and some confusion over what evidence needed to be shown.

The local elections saw the scheme tested out in five boroughs in an attempt to crack down on voter impersonation, with the possibility it could be extended nationwide in future elections.

The main issues appeared to be in Bromley and Woking where, along with Gosport, people had to show one piece of photo ID or two from a list of other documents. In the other two test areas, Swindon and Watford, only a polling card was required.

In Bromley, south-east London, tallies by the opposition Labour group found at least 13 people turned away from just one ward, Crystal Palace. There were also reports of some voters being angry and abusive to polling station workers when asked to show ID.

In the UK, this is a solution to a non-existent problem - none of the trial areas have reported a single incident of impersonation over the past decade (its similarly rare in New Zealand). So why are the right so keen on it? Because the people least likely to have ID, or to want to prove their identity to the government, are poor people, who don't vote for them. Its just the usual American-style politics of trying to win by suppressing turnout of your enemies, rather than actually persuading people to vote for you.