Proposals to make people show ID when they vote will discriminate against poorer people and marginalised groups, charities have warned.

The UK government says it wants to tighten rules around voting to protect election security and transparency. Its Elections Bill is due for its second reading in the House of Commons this week.

Under the most controversial element of the Bill, it will be a requirement for voters to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper to vote in a polling station.

The Welsh arm of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS Cymru) has joined 18 other organisations to warn that the "dangerous" proposals risk disenfranchising already marginalised groups and leave millions of would-be voters "shut out" from future elections.

Campaigners estimated that around two million people in the UK would be unable to vote, either because they have no photo ID or because their likeness is no longer recognisable on the ID they possess.

And ID possession is more likely to affect certain groups, their research found. Around 11 per cent of people who are unemployed do not have ID, as well as around 12 per cent of people who rent their homes from their council or a housing association, and some eight per cent of people with disabilities.

READ MORE: 'New ways of voting could open up Welsh democracy'

White people (76 per cent) are more likely than black people (53 per cent) to hold a driving licence, and the number of young people with a driving licence has fallen to a record low, the campaigners said.

“At a time when we should be thinking about how to remove the barriers to our democracy, the UK government is instead introducing a policy that could leave millions shut out," said Jess Blair, the director of ERS Cymru. "This legislation will disproportionately impact the most marginalised in our society who are more likely to lack the ID needed and leave them effectively locked out of the ballot box."

The Elections Bill is not just about bringing in voter ID – it will also cover things like campaign spending, candidate registration, and the voting rights of EU citizens. The UK government says the proposed legislation is "designed to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process".

On the plans for voter ID, a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office 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. Voters in Northern Ireland have been using photo identification since 2003. It has been operating with ease for decades and has proven to be effective at tackling fraud and improving voter confidence."

The National Wales: Jess Blair, the director of the Electoral Reform Society in Wales (ERS Cymru).Jess Blair, the director of the Electoral Reform Society in Wales (ERS Cymru).

But when it comes to voter fraud in the UK, research by the currently-independent Electoral Commission shows there are usually only a handful of proven cases each year.

In 2019, the year of the most recent general election, 595 cases of alleged electoral fraud were investigated by the police, but just four led to a conviction, and two other individuals were given a police caution.

Three of those cases were campaign offences, linked to false information on candidates' nomination papers, including one person in Neath Port Talbot who received a suspended prison sentence after admitting forging signatures on a candidate's paperwork.

Of the other three cases, two related to people using someone else's vote at a polling station, while the other one involved tampering with ballot papers.

The Electoral Commission data for other years shows a similar number of convictions and cautions linked to alleged voter fraud, with six in 2018 and nine in 2017.

For ERS director Blair, the Elections Bill is the very opposite of what government should be doing to protect the democratic process.

“We should be considering measures to encourage people to vote rather than investing tax payers’ money into expensive measures to turn them away," she said. "In Wales we’ve recently seen the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and foreign nationals. The voter ID provisions in the Elections Bill are in direct contrast to this. The [UK] government must stop and think again."

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