‘Unprecedented’ coalition of charities and civil society demand rethink on ‘dangerous’ voter ID trials

Posted on the 6th March 2018

Over 40 leading charities and academics call on the government to urgently reconsider the decision to run pilot mandatory voter ID at the local elections in May.

An ‘unprecedented’ coalition of charities and academics have written to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution, calling on the government to urgently reconsider the decision to enforce voter ID at the local elections in May. 

The group, led by the Electoral Reform Society, are calling for a rethink from across civil society – including Age UK, the National Union of Students, Operation Black Vote, the Salvation Army and Stonewall.

All are concerned that mandatory voter ID would damage turnout and undermine engagement among already disadvantaged and excluded groups – and worry the trials are a fait accompli for a national roll-out.

New figures from the Electoral Commission show there were just 28 allegations of impersonation last year our of nearly 45 million votes in 2017 – or one case for every 1.6 million votes cast. Only one of these allegations resulted in a conviction.

The coalition of groups argue voter ID reforms present a significant barrier to democratic engagement and could disadvantage young people, older people, disabled, transgender, BAME communities and the homeless.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Electoral fraud is a serious issue – but mandatory voter ID is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Requiring voters to bring ID to the polling station risks excluding far more people than the handful attempting to undermine the result.

“As has been seen in the US, mandatory voter ID raises sizeable barriers to people wishing to legitimately express their democratic will – and the millions who do not hold any form of photo ID. Our democratic procedures are widely respected without the need for over-bearing policies like this.

“The government needs to rethink these plans urgently, to ensure that our democracy is not threatened by these heavy-handed changes.

“We have electoral officers and a highly-respected judicial system to prevent abuses – let’s strengthen them, rather than potentially disenfranchising millions.”

Simon Woolley, Director, Operation Black Vote, said:

“This is clearly not a political issue, but rather a democratic concern. Right now our democracy needs to be the strongest it can be, therefore, we should be making the process of voting much easier, rather than introducing more layers of bureaucracy, that will inevitable cause distrust and turn people away.”

Dr. Toby James, University of East Anglia, said:

“There is, a clear risk that introducing voter identification could adversely affect electoral participation.

“Voter ID in Britain therefore needs to be considered cautiously, especially given that there is no evidence that electoral fraud, which voter ID is designed to remedy, is widespread.”

Letter sent to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution
Dear Minister,

RE: Voter ID pilots

We are writing to express our collective concerns for the Government plans to pilot identification in polling stations at the local government elections in May.

The Government’s commitment to building a safe and secure democracy is commendable. Electoral fraud is a serious crime and has the potential to undermine public confidence in elections, even if conducted on a small scale.

However, there is simply not enough evidence of voter fraud in the UK to justify these potentially damaging pilots, which threaten to disenfranchise members of some of the most vulnerable groups of society. In 2016 there were 44 allegations of impersonation – the type of fraud that voter ID is designed to tackle – out of nearly 64 million votes, reflecting just 1 case for every 1.5 million votes cast.

By comparison, the Electoral Commission has warned that 3.5 million people (7.5% of the electorate) in Great Britain do not have access to any form of photo ID. 11 million electors (24% of the electorate) do not have access to a passport or photographic driving licence.

As organisations who support and represent a diverse range of communities, we have serious concerns that these proposals present a significant barrier to democratic engagement and risk compromising a basic human right for some of the most marginalised groups in society. Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons.  Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless.

We are aware that the Local Authorities participating in the pilots will be providing alternative options for people without the photographic identification to vote in the local elections in May. However, we believe the measures do not go far enough to alleviate the potential risk of disenfranchisement and deterrent to voting. We are also concerned that the Local Authorities involved have failed to carry out adequate equality impact assessments of the pilots on protected individuals in their areas.  We would be grateful to learn what assurances you can give us in this regard.

We are also very concerned about the low levels of public awareness of the pilots and proposed reforms. We fear that many people will be unaware of changes to the voting process. To ensure that voters are not disenfranchised, it is vital that there is wide coverage of the new voting arrangements and that communications are accessible to everyone. Unfortunately there is little evidence to suggest that this has taken place in the various pilot areas even though the elections are now only two months away.

In December, the Cabinet Office published a five-year democratic engagement plan designed to increase participation in democracy. It is disappointing that these electoral pilots directly undermine this worthy objective.

We hope you listen to these concerns and urgently reconsider your decision to run the pilots as planned in the May local elections. We would be very happy to meet with you to discuss these issues in more detail and how our concerns may be mitigated.


Darren Hughes
Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society

Simon Woolley, Director
Operation Black Vote

Sally Harvey, Chief Executive
Royal National Institute of Blind People

Dominic Williamson, Executive Director
St Mungo’s

Rob Young, Vice President
Society and Citizenship Zone, NUS

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive

Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director

Balbir Chatrik, Director of Policy and Communications

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director
Age UK

Dr Shazad Amin, Chief Executive

Lt. Colonel David Kelly, Secretary for Communications
The Salvation Army

Fizza Qureshi, Director
Migrants’ Rights Network

Alexandra Runswick, Director
Unlock Democracy

Matteo Bergamini, Founder and Director
Shout Out UK

Tim Hughes, Director

Jo Hobbs, Chief Executive
British Youth Council

Professor Pippa Norris, Director
Electoral Integrity Project
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

Jabeer Butt, Acting Chief Executive
Race Equality Foundation

James Cathcart, Founder
Young Voices Heard

Areeq Chowdhury, Chief Executive
WebRoots Democracy

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director
The Jewish Council for Racial Equality

Andrew Brown, interim Chief Executive
Croydon BME Forum

Peter Corbett, Chief Executive
Thomas Pocklington Trust

Tom Franklin, Chief Executive
Young Citizens (formerly Citizenship Foundation)

Tim Cooper, Chief Executive
United Response

Matt Gillow, Founder

Andy Gregg, Chief Executive
Race On The Agenda

Suresh Grover, Director
The Monitoring Group

Professor Matt Henn, Chair of Social Research
Nottingham Trent University

Dr Omar Khan, Director

Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive
LGBT Foundation

Zoe Matthews, Co-Director
Sarah Mann, Co-Director
Friends, Families and Travellers

John Mayford, Chief Executive

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive
Independent Age

Kunle Olulode, Director
Voice4Change England

Dr Tom Pey, Chief Executive
Royal Society for Blind Children

Dr Sarah Pickard, Senior Lecturer
Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

Sham Qayyum, Director
Council of Somali Organisations

Dennis Reed, Director
Silver Voices

Dr James Sloam
Democracy and Elections Centre,
Royal Holloway, University of London

Jay Stewart, Chief Executive Officer
Gendered Intelligence

Professor Jon Tonge, President
British Politics Group,
University of Liverpool

Joy Warmington, Chief Executive

Notes to Editors

  • The Government have announced plans to launch voter ID pilots in local elections in May in a move to tackle electoral fraud,
  • Voters in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Woking and Watford will be required produce ID before being issued with a ballot paper. Peterborough, Tower Hamlets and Slough will also run a separate postal voting pilot, looking at the security of postal votes and providing additional guidance in postal vote packs. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/voter-id-pilot-to-launch-in-local-elections
  • Following the General Election, the Government have stated that the ID pilot schemes remain a priority. The intention would be for this to go live in 2022, and for some pilots to take place in 2018.
  • Bromley, Gosport and Woking are piloting the most restrictive forms of ID, which includes either 1 piece of photo ID, such as passport and drivers licences, or several pieces on non-photo ID, such as utility bills and council tax bills. Those without the necessary ID must obtain a certificate of identity and/or local election card. Applications require proof of identification and an attestation in writing from a person of good standing in the community.
  • Swindon and Watford are piloting poll cards, which is moderately restrictive. If a voter loses their poll card they can request for a replacement poll card. Those who forget to bring it to the polling station must present another form of ID.
  • Those without the necessary ID will not be allowed to vote and will be turned away at the polling stations.
  • Last year there were 28 allegations of impersonation – the type of fraud that voter ID is designed to tackle – out of nearly 45 million votes. That is 1 case for every 1.6 million votes cast.
  • The Cabinet Office, the Electoral Commission and Local Authorities participating in the pilots justify their position by stating that electoral fraud through voter impersonation doubled nationally between 2014 and 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/voter-id-pilot-to-launch-in-local-elections
  • Although alleged impersonation rose by 21 to 44, the number of votes cast rose from 29.1 million to 63.8 million. https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/electoral-fraud/data-and-analysis
  • Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons.  Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled, transgender, BAME communities and the homeless.
  • According to the Electoral Commission, 3.5 million electors – 7.5% of the electorate – do not have photo ID. Limiting acceptable ID to passports and photographic driving licences would see potentially 11 million electors, or 24% of the electorate, without acceptable ID.
  • Data from the 2011 shows that 70% of people over the age of 65 hold a UK passport. This drops to 46% for people aged 85 and over.
  • Data from the National Travel Survey shows that while 73% of population have a driving license, this drops to 62% for people aged 70 and over and 31% for people aged 17 to 20.

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