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'A full-fronted attack on our democracy': New voter ID laws make it harder for young people to vote

The Elections Bill permits older person’s bus passes and Oyster 60+ cards as ID - but not student cards and young persons railcards.

Protesters gather outside parliament in February to protest the Elections Bill. It passed in April. Image: Alisdare Hickson/Flcikr

New laws making voter ID mandatory at elections do not allow young people to use their railcards – but do allow older people’s travelcards.

The Elections Bill, passed on Wednesday night, will make it mandatory for voters to show photographic ID at the polling booth. The government says the bill will protect the “integrity” of elections and prevent voter fraud. 

The Labour Party has accused the Conservative party of “trying to rig the rules of the game to help themselves” with the Elections Bill.

The bill sets out a list of identification documents that will be accepted as valid forms of identification, including passports and driving licences. Yet while some forms of travel passes for older people will be permitted, young people’s railcards, including the 16 to 25 and the 26 to 30 railcards, are not on the list. 

The concessionary travel passes which will be accepted are: 

  • Older Person’s Bus Pass
  • Disabled Person’s Bus Pass
  • Oyster 60+ Card
  • Freedom Pass

An amendment to the Elections Bill in the House of Lords shows peers tried to get national railcards, student ID cards and 18+ student Oyster cards added to the list of valid documents. 

But the amendment was rejected, and the reason given was that “the Commons consider the requirement to provide adequate photographic identification to be the most effective means of securing the integrity of the electoral system”.

In December, MPs warned that millions of people could be locked out from voting due to not having a valid form of photo identification, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are less likely to possess valid ID. 

Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that low-income potential voters are six times less likely to have a photo ID than their wealthier counterparts. 

The Labour Party has previously accused Boris Johnson and his government of trying to “choose voters” through the Elections Bill, saying that the legislation would make it difficult for low-income and homeless people to vote.

Polling by YouGov shows a clear age split in party allegiance at the 2019 election, with 56 per cent of Labour voters in the 18-24 bracket, and 67 per cent of Conservative voters in the top 70+ age bracket. 

Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society said:

“Allowing bus passes and Oyster cards for older voters but refusing to accept the same forms of ID for young people is the kind of democratic discrimination that make this bill so dangerous.

“If the government wants to improve elections in the UK it should be finding ways to encourage voter engagement – especially amongst young people who typically turnout less at election time.

“The Elections Bill is a full fronted attack on our democracy – and one that could see millions shut out from polling stations on election day.”

Alex Norris MP, Labour’s shadow minister for levelling up and elections, said:

“Now more than ever we need to protect our democracy and the institutions that make it fair.

“Just as with Owen Paterson and with their attempts to prevent the Prime Minister being investigated for lying about breaking lockdown rules, the Tories are trying to rig the rules of the game to help themselves, with potentially dangerous consequences.”

A government spokesperson said:

“The Election Act delivers on the Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce voter identification and will ensure that our elections remain secure, fair, transparent and up to date.  This will bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.”

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