There are few things you can do in modern Britain – open a bank account, travel abroad, or claim benefits – without providing some form of ID.
It has therefore long been something of an anomaly that one of those few things was voting. Under our current system nobody outside Northern Ireland needs to be able to prove they are who they claim to be before casting a ballot.
Now the Government is doing something about it. Ministers are planning to pilot a voter ID scheme in five places during May’s local elections. There will then be further trials before the programme is potentially rolled out across the mainland.
Even if you’re the sort to find the change irritating, it’s difficult to see how bringing voting into line with how we do almost everything else in modern Britain could be an outrage. But that’s exactly how Labour and their third-sector allies are treating it.
According to the BBC more than 40 campaign groups have written to Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, urging her to abandon the programme. According to a letter organised by the Electoral Reform Society, voter ID risks “compromising a basic human right for some of the most marginalised groups in society”.
Meanwhile Cat Smith, Labour’s “shadow voter and engagement and youth affairs minister”, claims that the move could deprive 7.5 per cent of the electorate of the ability to vote, which she claims is a problem far in excess of the problems caused by voter fraud.
The problem with this line of attack is that if you carry it through to its logical conclusion, the implication is that requiring ID to claim benefits or get housing must also, surely, risk “compromising a basic human right”. If it doesn’t, it is tricky to see how requiring ID to vote – something much less important than sustenance or shelter – could possibly do so.
Instead, this looks a lot like an Opposition worried that this new safeguard, whilst not unreasonable, may nonetheless depress its vote.
Labour’s objections are also of a piece with their broader tendency to treat the vote as if it weren’t very important. They seem to suggest here that casting a ballot ought not to have the same protections as claiming benefits, just as they push for extending the franchise to 16-year-olds whilst simultaneously stripping them of many adult rights and privileges they previously enjoyed.
If there were no case for these pilots beyond the electoral interest of the Conservative Party, the independent Electoral Commission would not be supporting them. The Government should push ahead with the trials and learn whether voter ID is a practical step to improve the integrity of the ballot.