Voter ID | A disaster waiting to happen

This weeks Queens Speech introduced us to another bad idea. Voter ID.

On the surface this seems pretty straight forward – why not force people to show ID to vote? Most people have ID, and lots of people (including me) carry it with them every day. Whats the problem?

To understand why it is such a daft idea let’s go back to the original proposal for ID cards under the last Labour Government. This was an ambitious plan not just to give everyone an ID card, but to allow Government Departments to share data, and help people access Government services on line.

It was massively unpopular with parts of the UK right wing, and Boris himself said of ID cards “I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it.” 

The whole scheme was scrapped by David Cameron 10 years ago.

The problem was that while the ID cards were scrapped Government still had to find a way to verify the identity of citizens using Government services. At the time I was working with the CSA and within weeks of the ID card scheme being scrapped we re-contracted with Experian to verify the identity of service users, and help track them down.

The ID scheme wasn’t scrapped; it was just moved to the private sector, with a lot less checks and balances.

These private sector contracts over time evolved into GOV.UK Verify. This was a system by which citizens who needed to interact with the state on line could chose a private company, normally a credit management company, to verify their identity. I had to sign up with Experian in order to fill some Government forms in on line, even though I already had a Government Gateway account. I was pretty annoyed by this, particularly as I still get emails from Experian several times a week offering me credit cards.

GOV.UK Verify is a mess. I had to use it again recently, and most of the providers on the scheme have pulled out. This meant that I had to register again, but with a different provider as Experian have left the scheme in a huff. Only 2 providers are lef; I had to register with a new company Digidentity, download an app, scan my passport, set up a on-line account.

And after all that….

It didn’t work.

Neither the NHS or DWP can currently accept GOV.UK Verification. They both told me this is an intermittent fault, but I couldn’t get it to work at all. We should have stuck with the original plan all those years ago.

All of this goes to show that setting up a Government ID scheme, which involves identity verification is harder than it sounds, particularly if you insist on outsourcing it to your mates.

Voter ID will be a total shambles. The people who don’t currently have appropriate ID (and there are millions) are poor, old and vulnerable. Impersonating another voter is incredibly easy to catch without ID, and vanishingly rare.

So why is Boris doing it if it’s a crap idea and he hates it?

Because it is good politics. It sounds sensible and straight forward, and it forces the opposition to attack proposals which sound like common sense. And it makes voting harder for poor and vulnerable people and guess who that benefits?

At the next General Election there will be lots of legitimate voters who won’t be able to vote because of problems with the ID card system. In some seats there might be more legitimate voters denied a vote than the majority of the winning candidate.

But the Government doesn’t think that far ahead, and it doesn’t care. It just runs on todays headlines, and immediate political advantage.

And if it trashes democracy in the process – so what?

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