I didn’t know, until I had the misfortune to be watching BBC Parliament today (I hate how that happens) that my manor Bromley is one of only five boroughs to be piloting a scheme of asking voters for ID in the local elections on 3 May. No ID, no vote.
All ID-related schemes bear the aspect of a solution looking for a problem, and they’re not fussy about the size of the problem. Shadow Minister Cat Smith pointed out today that electoral fraud was minimal, and only one case had been prosecuted following the last election. She was obviously hampered in this noble truth-speaking by Labour’s papers-please record in government, which a few of us perhaps mentioned at the time might come back to bite them on the arse, and this is exactly what happened as the ominously titled Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith, dwelt gloatingly on previous Labour pronouncements.
“And are the Labour party really saying that there is any amount of crime that is “too small” to tackle?” she smirked on, as if this was an unthinkable lunacy as opposed to an essential metric in criminal justice resource allocation.
She also claimed that few people should need to buy ID, and a long list of the choices available were on the polling card.
I have one and it’s true, they are. Let’s take a look at it.
The big ticket item here is the passport which in the UK costs a minimum of £75.50 provided you apply online and take your own digital pictures to HM Passport Office’s unsmiling requirements.
If you unsurprisingly don’t want to chance getting this wrong (say, if there are shadows anywhere in your home), you can shell out another tenner at a high street photographer to get some pictures taken, then if you’re a complete idiot you can go back the following week (to a different branch obviously) and get some more taken because you forgot the first time to specify you wanted them emailed to you, and walked blithely out with your cute little 90s-style wallet of paper pictures, and then two days later in the front of the queue at the butcher’s slapped your forehead and said “Oh fucking hell.” It costs more if you apply by post, and it costs more if you use the Post Office’s Check You’re Not a Complete Plum And Send service.
I don’t know the cost of the other items, and I don’t know what the “Freedom Pass (London)” is at all (it sounds wonderful), but on the assumption that all of them either cost money or are limited to certain groups, let’s pass without further incident to Column B.
I actually can do this without a piece of photo ID, but I’d be very surprised if everyone could:
The poll card itself counts as an item. If you’ve lost that you’re presumably doomed because it tells you what you need to bring – so already that’s one more piece of admin responsibility over previous elections.
Bank card (valid) – this would be my first pairing. Obviously no good if you don’t have a bank account, and this circumstance would suggest a relative lack of privilege.
Mortgage statement (not more than 3 months old) – see above with bells on re privilege. Also, they’re annual, so only 25% of the privileged will have a valid one.
Bank, Building Society, Credit Card statement (not more than 3 months old) – mine are all paperless, because, 2018. I suppose I could tick the ticky box in my internet banking to say “I’d like a paper statement next month please” provided I (a) had the foresight to do this in time and (b) had internet banking or else (c) time and leisure during working hours to phone the bank and hold my way through the ABBA back catalogue. Privilege, privilege, privilege.
Cheque book – lol.
Council tax statement or demand (not more than 12 months old) – if it’s in your name, sure – privilege again. One of the most hassly things about house sharing was always making sure everyone’s name was on something, and then having to periodically switch them around because someone wants to join a gym that thinks internet provider bills are all iniquitous forgeries and only gas will do, or similar.
Utility bill (not more than 3 months old) – see above re names. Also, my water bills are annual and my gas and electricity provider doesn’t even give me the option of paper bills any more, because, 2018. Honestly, admin is like continually slipping between two universes identical in every way except for their vastly different cultural beliefs around paper, one set of organisations positively boasting about the fact that it doesn’t weigh you down with it, while the other set of organisations chastises you for not having any.
(I wouldn’t fancy your chances of printing out an online bill either, I bet they won’t like that. I got round this when I joined the library, that other fierce examiner of personal identity, by using the printer at work and then folding it into thirds like business mail. Show them what they’re expecting to see, etc.)
P45 or P60 – if you work, sure.
Paper driving licence – presuming this also costs money. It certainly costs admin time.
Birth certificate – I’m amazed mine has survived this long and this many house moves, but I’m sure not everyone’s has.
All the rest of the list – limited by circumstance.
Most of the above is about privilege one way or another, the privilege of being worthy of receiving (non)paper in some capacity, and of having an identity that hasn’t changed over the period when all this (non)paper has accumulated. But it’s also about the wider privilege of having the health, time, foresight, and ability to wrangle officialdom to read that list and assemble the correct items from it. There’s just no way round the fact that this scheme asks voters to do more work and meet more standards to vote, and any kind of barrier of that nature is going to exclude some people.
I got my passport renewed, mostly because I needed to anyway, but also because this is not my first rodeo in turning up to desks and timidly submitting bits of crumpled paper to stern ladies. Basically, I have a hunch this will go wrong. There are too many items on that list to effectively train polling staff in all the little ins and outs and possibilities, and for them to retain it all day as hundreds of faces, names and circumstances present themselves. What was once a process has become a set of judgement calls, and inevitably some of them will be close. Somebody will call something wrong, and somebody will be unable to vote. And going on the “Minister for the Constitution”‘s own logic, even one person turned away would be a problem in urgent need of remedy.
Upon which, they’ll introduce ID cards like they wanted all along.