A Scottish disability charity will consider joining forces with other human rights organisations to take legal action against “discriminatory” and “disproportionate” proposals for compulsory photo ID made in the UK Government’s Election Bill, The Ferret has learned.
Inclusion Scotland raised its concerns along with other organisations submitting evidence to a parliamentary committee consultation on the Elections Bill, introduced in July and debated for the first time earlier this week.
Human rights organisations and opposition politicians have already raised fears about the proposals contained in the Elections Bill, which include plans for all voters to provide photo identification before collecting their ballot paper at polling stations during UK parliamentary elections.
US human rights groups have likened the policy to Republican voter suppression tactics used in the States.
As well as the introduction of photo ID, the UK Government claims the Bill aims to make voting more accessible by requiring returning officers to take all reasonable steps to provide support to people with disabilities at polling stations.
However in a submission to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Elections Bill inquiry, Inclusion Scotland claims the changes proposed are discriminatory under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.
It says rather than making voting easier, the requirement for photo ID will be more likely to be denied a vote than non-disabled people. Research suggests disabled people are less likely to either have – or be able to access – photo ID.
The organisation claims that surveys suggest about one in ten disabled people – or over a million across the UK – could be denied the right to vote because they do not have the necessary ID.
Its submission states: “Given that there have historically been very few cases of alleged or proven personation at UK elections – but that voter ID could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters – this proposal is by no means proportionate.
“The UK Government seriously overstates its case about the risk of personation. It uses provocative language about voters having their vote stolen but fails to recognise that many more will be denied their vote by their proposals.”
Inclusion Scotland also claims additional barriers will be faced by disabled people in obtaining a voter ID document as they face difficulties in travelling to access official offices while also being less likely to be online.
Bill Scott, senior policy advisor at Inclusion Scotland, told The Ferret the organisation was “very concerned” about the Elections Bill.
“Disabled people already face barriers when trying to exercise their democratic right to vote,” he said.
“Not only are some polling stations difficult to access but disabled people with visual impairments find completing the ballot paper difficult because of the size of the print. Now on top of those difficulties disabled people are going to be required to provide photographic evidence of their identity yet hundreds of thousands of disabled people do not have driving licenses or passports.
“We and other disabled people’s organisations will be considering a legal challenge to this legislation if it becomes law as we view it as discriminatory.”
Other submissions also raised serious concerns that proposals would result in a democratic deficit by making it difficult for marginalised groups to vote.
Age UK said the need for voter ID should be removed from the Bill, claiming “the proposal is a sledge hammer to crack a nut”. Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Society, which called in its submission for the UK Government to “pause and rethink” the Bill, said over two million people risk not being able to vote in a general election due to not having recognisable photo ID.
“Those with severely limiting disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who have never voted before are all less likely to hold any form of photo ID,” it added.
While stopping short of commenting on “policy decisions” the Electoral Management Board for Scotland raised numerous “practical” concerns including “voter confusion” in its submission. As the SNP is opposing the Bill it is likely that photo ID would only be required by Scots during UK-wide elections, but not for Scottish parliamentary or local ones.
Opposition Scottish politicians called for the “ill-through through” proposal for photo ID to be scrapped.
Brendan O’Hara MP said the UK Government’s bill was “regressive” and Trumpian. He added: “The reality is that it threatens to undermine democracy and shut out marginalised communities.
“Rather than working to strengthen our democratic processes, the Tories have taken yet another page out of the Trump playbook with blatant voter suppression measures.
“With millions of people across the UK not holding a form of photo ID, the grim reality is that their democratic rights will not be strengthened – they will be ripped away from them.
“The SNP will oppose this Bill and it is vital that the UK government heeds the warnings and abandons its vote-rigging proposals immediately.”
Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour MSP for Glasgow, added: “The UK government’s proposals for Voter ID are ill thought through, and will have a disproportionate impact on disabled people, as well as older and homeless people.
“Creating additional barriers to voting is not democratic – it will lead to more people not using their vote.
Duncan-Glancy, who is the first wheelchair user to be elected to the Scottish Parliament said that the proposal for a free ID scheme did not alleviate concerns and criticised the UK Government for its failure to acknowledge the impact of proposed changes on disabled people and other marginalised groups.
“There is no detail available on processes, and it is highly likely that disabled people would be again disproportionately disadvantaged by the need to follow a new application process, especially those living without support,” she added.
The UK Government, however, claims the bill looks to address its 2019 manifesto commitments to “protect the integrity of the UK’s democracy, by introducing identification to vote at polling stations, stopping postal vote harvesting and measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections”.
It is also proposing the removal of the 15 year limit on voting rights for British citizens living overseas to “make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections”, it has said.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Stealing someone’s vote is stealing their voice. Fraud in our elections is something we cannot allow room for, so we are stamping out potential for it to take place by requiring photographic identification.”
It claims that from its own research suggests people with a disability were only one percentage point less likely to have any form of photo ID, compared to those without a disability.
The spokesperson added: “Our research, which draws on the most comprehensive data available to date, shows that 98 per cent of the population had a form of identification that would be accepted under our proposals, and a free, local Voter Card will be available for anyone who needs it.
“We are continuing to work constructively with charities and civil society organisations to help people understand these changes and make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote will be supported to do so.”
Photo Credit: iStock/Maksims Grigorjevs