‘WE haven’t got great plans,” said Labour leader Keir Starmer this week, not about running the country in general – although, let’s be honest, that too – but about scrapping the new voter ID requirements.

The new rules, which require anyone voting in person to bring a recognised form of photographic ID to the polling station, were passed into law in 2022 and apply to voters across the UK for General Elections, as well as local elections in England.

That means English voters have already had a taster of the system, and the evidence so far suggests that all the warnings that it was a horrible and utterly pointless idea were right.

“[It] will suppress turnout, it will disproportionately impact ethnic minorities and it will weaken our democracy,” said one such warning.

READ MORE: Warning voter ID laws may 'significantly impact' Scottish General Election result

These words were spoken by none other than 2021 Keir Starmer, who exists in a different plane of the Labour multiverse to 2024 Keir Starmer and may or may not, at some point, be witnessed standing alongside him with 2019 Keir Starmer (that’s the one who thought Brexit was a bad idea). A little like Spiderman: No Way Home, but without the fun bits.

The 2021 Starmer knew what he was talking about— before these rules were introduced, there was already clear evidence that their impacts would be unequal and that they would further disenfranchise groups who are already marginalised and less likely to vote.

One reason for this is that some groups are less to have photo ID than others – for example, if you’ve never travelled abroad or learned to drive, you’re unlikely to have a passport or driver’s licence.

Research by the Electoral Reform Society in 2022 found that whilst only 4% of people did not have a recognisable form of photo of ID, this figure rose to 14% of those renting council housing, 10% renting from a housing association, 14% of unemployed people, and 8% of those of those categorised as within the lowest “social grade”, which includes those working in “semi-skilled” or “unskilled” manual jobs.

This underlines a real risk of worsening inequalities that already exist in democratic participation, at a time when the policies coming out of the UK Government prove how urgently the voices of those on lower incomes need to be heard – but then, I suppose that’s the point.

Yes, people can apply for a “voter authority certificate”, which is a free form of voter ID, or they can apply for a postal vote which removes the need for photo ID altogether. But this relies on several assumptions: that most people who don’t have photo ID will know about the new rules; that they’ll know they have other options and how to access them; and that they will do so before the deadline (and if they miss that deadline, that they’ll know they have yet another option of acquiring a temporary version of a voter authority certificate).

Handy tip for anyone trying to come up with a user-friendly system for anything: if it takes as many words to explain as I just used, it’s not user-friendly.

Following the English local elections last year, the Electoral Commission found that 92% of people were aware of the need to bring ID to the polling station, but this dropped to 74% amongst people who said they didn’t have ID. Only 57% of people said they knew about the availability of free voter ID.

READ MORE: Will I need photo ID to vote in the General Election in Scotland on July 4?

This reveals a worrying number of people who could either lose out on their chance to vote because of a lack of knowledge about the new rules and options – a circumstance which is also likely to have highly unequal impacts.

A YouGov poll this April found that 30% of 18–24-year-olds across the UK did not know they had to bring photo ID to vote. Considering that this age group is also the least likely to vote, these changes could serve to further alienate young people from a system that doesn’t appear interested in encouraging them to get involved. The next problem with voter ID emerges when people turn up to present it at the polling station. It’s up to the staff at each station to review voters’ ID and decide whether it meets the requirements. The ID doesn’t need to be in date, but it does need to look like the person on the day – a highly subjective judgement.

According to Democracy Volunteers, an organisation which observes the election process in English local and mayoral elections, 53% of those who were turned away for lacking recognisable ID in last year’s elections were identified by their observers as “non-white passing”.

Trans and non-binary people are also likely to be disproportionately impacted by these requirements – for example, if someone is in the process of transitioning, they may look different to their most recent photo ID. Shockingly, there is no right for voters to appeal a decision to reject their ID, which leaves the system far too open to unconscious bias or outright discrimination.

The National:

Whether people are turned away at the polling station (which happened to around 14,000 people in last year’s local elections in England) or choose not to turn up at all because of voter ID rules (which, according to Ipsos polling, could be the case for as many as 8% of potential voters), this is a threat to democracy.

And given that turnout in General Elections is typically far higher than in local elections, the numbers missing out on their right to vote will also be considerably greater.

YouGov also found that, as of April 2024, 30% of Scottish voters did not know about the need to bring photo ID – that means we have a very short space of time in which to ensure that a significant portion of our population don’t lose out on their democratic rights.

Starmer says that, rather than focusing on this issue, he’ll be prioritising the economy and the NHS. Keeping in mind that the government’s own impact assessment on voter ID estimated a cost of £180 million over a decade to implement the new rules, it seems like simply not spending that money might be beneficial to the economy and the NHS?

READ MORE: Elections watchdog issues voter ID warning to Scots ahead of next national poll

You might also assume that, since these rules have been introduced when the old approach of rocking up to the polling station seemed to work alright, there must be a good reason for it.

The Conservative Government claimed it was intended to tackle voter fraud. But year after year the data shows very few cases of reported impersonation at polling stations, never mind convictions.

So, the UK Government – past and present – intends to spend an average of £15 million per year and make it harder for people to vote in order to address a problem that doesn’t even exist? In the absence of any real evidence of need for this policy, you could be forgiven for thinking that suppressing turnout amongst particular groups is a feature, not a bug.

Maybe it’s because he knows he’s going to win that Starmer has stopped caring about an issue he was so righteously worked up about just a few years ago – but people’s votes should count whether they’ll help you into power or not.