On London aims to give opportunities to young journalists. Sian Bayley is journalism student at City. She lives in Bromley and this is her excellent report on how local fellow students are responding to the Voter ID pilot scheme being conducted in the borough.
Students in Bromley have been reacting to the requirement that they produce specific forms of identification when voting at polling stations in the borough’s council election on 3 May. While those On London spoke to supported of the main aim of the pilot Voter ID scheme – reducing electoral fraud – some were concerned about potential negative affects and questioned why the forms of ID Bromley students must produce appear different both from those for counterparts in other places where piloting is taking place and by comparison with older local people.
Although Bromley has a whole will accept a larger number of forms of ID from voters than in some other pilot areas in England, Transport for London’s 18+ Student Oystercard won’t be accepted, whereas in Woking a student fare card or 16-25 railcard will be accepted as proof of identity, and in Gosport any form of concessionary travel photocard issued within Hampshire will be allowed. Also, the 60+ Oyster Card and Older Persons Freedom Pass, two other forms of photo ID issued by Transport for London, which is a Greater London Authority functional body, will be acceptable in Bromley.
“Voter ID is good because it helps to reduce voter impersonation, but I think it could potentially deter some people, as you have to put a bit more thought into the process,” said Charlotte Spicer, who has just graduated with a degree in occupational therapy. “I think the fact that the only Oyster they will take is the 60+ is a bit rubbish and if a young person does not have a passport it’s really hard for them, as only home-owning adults are likely to have the other kinds of valid document.”
However, Alex Bough, a student at Nottingham Trent University who worked as a poll clerk in Bromley for both the EU referendum and the 2017 general election, thinks most students will have the correct forms of ID: “Working at elections makes you realise you don’t even need a polling card to be able to vote. I could roll up knowing your name and address and vote for you. This increases the risk of possible fraudulent voting in my opinion, because you cannot be sure that people are who they say they are.
“I think the range of documents that are allowed as proof of identity mean that everyone will have access to something, so it’s not going to marginalise people for not having a passport or a driver’s licence for example. You can use a birth certificate or a bank statement as proof of address, and personally I think that is enough. For young voters, the biggest issue is just being able to find a way vote, especially around exam times, so I think it would be beneficial to make people more aware of the proxy and postal voting systems.”
English literature student, Anna Elson, agrees: “I’m applying for a postal vote as I have uni deadlines around that time so won’t be home to vote. I wasn’t aware there was much voter fraud, so I was initially unsure why it has been introduced. However, I think as long as it does not significantly reduce voter turnout by putting voters off, then it could be a good thing. As I have photo ID it would not bother me personally, but for people without a driver’s licence or passport I can imagine it would be extremely difficult for them to gather the other forms of identification required. Also, as you have to pay a fee to apply for a passport, or even a provisional driver’s licence, it could be discriminatory against those unable to afford such forms of identification, or else make the process so difficult that it puts many young or even older voters off.”
George Muscatt, a student at Warwick University, is another who agrees with the principle of voter ID: “I’m not aware of the estimations of the extent of voter personation, but if the voter ID scheme reduces such activity, it’s a good idea for me. It does seem remarkably easy to impersonate someone if you know their name and address. Personally, I’m always anxious about turning up to vote without ID. Even knowing that I don’t usually need ID to vote, I’ve always carried it with me.
“My go-to ID is my driver’s licence, partly because I don’t trust myself carrying my passport out of the house! So I’m sure for young people who do not drive, it could be inconvenient to need to carry alternative forms of ID. Most people are used to carrying at least one form of ID on them at any time, but I can see how this might not be the case for some young people. I’m sure most young people will carry student IDs, so it’s a shame that they are not acceptable.”
Even though student IDs and 18+ Oyster cards are not permitted, all the young people On London spoke to agreed with the decision to pilot voter ID in Bromley. The majority explained that they carry their driver’s licence (full or provisional) with them all the time, so they will not have a problem when it comes to election day.
The voter ID pilot might not make much of a difference to youth turnout in predominantly white, middle-class suburban Bromley, where most will have the documents required and there are far fewer young people in Bromley compared to the rest of London (19% are aged 18-35 compared to 28% across the capital). Bromley Council is a Conservative stronghold that is unlikely to change hands.
Nevertheless, it will be worth analysing any changes that do occur, and comparing them to the other trials being held. Any differences in youth turnout across these trial areas will also shape the government’s policy on the forms of acceptable voter ID.
Many thanks to Sian for writing this debut piece. Follow her on Twitter.
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