The company with millions in contracts for controversial voter ID verification previously worked on scrapped NHS Covid-19 ‘vaccine passport’ scheme, report Max Colbert and Josiah Mortimer
Two firms awarded £8 million in contracts for printing and ID verification for the new voter ID rollout were previously tasked with working on projects relating to the governments’ shambolic pandemic response, Byline Times can reveal.
Companies Valtech and HH Associates have both secured voter ID work worth at least £8 million, ahead of the rollout of the policy nationwide in England this Thursday.
HH Associates, a subsidiary of Jersey-registered outsourcing firm HH Global, have been issued a £4.6 million contract starting last September and running until 2024, to provide a ‘print management service for voter authority certificate[s]’.
The company, which produces print literature for a host of government departments, was previously involved in the scrapped vaccine passport scheme which the government spent an eye-watering £75 million on, before shelving.
In May 2021, It was awarded a £21 million contract with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to produce paper vaccine passports for people who don’t have access to a smartphone or computer, an agreement which was scrapped amid fierce opposition to the plans from Tory backbenchers.
While some countries implemented so-called vaccine passports – used to grant entry to venues on the basis of vaccine status – they were only ever deployed on a limited basis in England, including international travel and for certain live events, though the initiative received consistent opposition from lockdown-sceptic MPs.
HH’s pandemic-related work was among those that originally sparked fears of an invasion of privacy, as the one-year contract had an option to extend for several years. The original contract ran until four months before their voter-ID work. Speaking at the time, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, former director of advocacy group Liberty, accused the government of trying to bring in National ID “by stealth”, adding that the move to vaccine passports was “the biggest shift in civil liberties in the history of the United Kingdom”.
While a handful of Conservatives have challenged the mandatory voter ID scheme as a “papers please” policy that limits privacy, the figure was far fewer than vaccine passports.
Two further voter-ID contracts, worth a combined £3.5 million, have been awarded to global digital agency Valtech, to develop the ID Verification process for the ‘Electoral Integrity Programme’ (EIP). Prior to this, the company had helped establish the NHS Covid-19 text messaging service.
People staying at home suffering from suspected COVID-19 symptoms were provided with regular check-ins via text after interacting with the NHS 111 service.
Valtech’s work now is aimed at ensuring those who lack an existing form of photo identification can obtain a free Voter Card, and to make it “easier for overseas electors to vote; improving the transparency of political campaigning; measures to secure our democratic processes, improving the security of postal and proxy voting, and making polling stations more accessible.”
Civil Liberties at Risk
In practice, however, the government plans, which have been dubbed a form of “voter suppression”, risk disenfranchising millions, according to democracy groups.
Nearly 4% of the country (2.1 million people) are without recognisable photo IDs, many from poorer, working class, disabled, and younger demographics, who are often less likely to vote for the Conservatives. Official numbers show that only a fraction (85,000) of these people had registered to receive valid voter IDs in time for the local elections.
Privacy campaigners have pushed back on government plans to introduce new forms of national ID, both during the pandemic and now. Speaking to Byline Times, Jake Hurfurt, head of research and investigations at Big Brother Watch, said “Voter ID is unjustified, unnecessary and discriminatory. No matter the format, whether covid, voter or digital, compulsory domestic ID poses a threat to our democratic rights, privacy and equality, and must be opposed.”
Jessie Joe Jacobs, director at the UK Democracy Network, added: “There is a genuine fear that the new requirements of voter-ID will see people who already suffer marginalisation and exclusion in the UK, further marginalised by having their basic right to vote, weakened as many could be turned away from polling booths.”
“The original idea behind photo ID, to stop voter fraud, has been shown, by our members, to be a very small issue in this country. And the danger is that this requirement will disenfranchise the most vulnerable in society.”
Weak Tory Opposition
Ninety-nine rebel MPs rejected plans for vaccine passports in 2021, whereas not a single Conservative MP voted against the second reading of the Elections Bill, which contains the provisions for mandatory identification.
Even senior MPs who’ve spoken publicly against the policy, such as David Davis, voted for the bill, despite telling Sky News that introducing requirements to curb voter fraud is “preventing something that doesn’t happen”. Official statistics show that in 2022 there were zero actionable instances of voter fraud by impersonation at polling booths.
Because of the way the polls will be conducted on Thursday, it’s likely that the public will never know the full extent of people who’ve been refused a chance to vote.
Typically clerks inside the building will take a formal register of people who are turned away. But this year, a “significant number” of polling stations will also feature “greeters” waiting outside to help ensure the change in rules goes smoothly. These staff will be reminding people that they have to bring photo ID, but as no register will be taken of those who walk away prior to entering the building, if they leave the queue before going inside they will not be counted in the figure excluded from voting, the Electoral Commission has confirmed.
More than half of people – 52% – surveyed in an Omnisis poll by Byline Times two weeks ago, said that they had received no information from their local council about the new voter ID requirements.
All contracts have been issued by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
Both firms were contacted for comment.
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