Position on mandatory voter ID

Posted on the 26th March 2024

Mandatory photographic ID for voters was introduced via the Election Act 2022 and required for the first time in the local elections last year. Voters will be asked to show photographic ID at the local and Mayoral elections this year and at the next General Election.

What do we know about the impact so far?

In the 2023 local elections, the Electoral Commission recorded that approximately 14,000 electors attempted to vote but were turned away because they lacked accepted ID and did not return.1Electoral Commission (2023) Voter ID at the May 2023 local elections, interim analysis. However, as recognised by the Electoral Commission, this is likely to be an underestimate as many voters were turned away by ‘greeters’ outside the polling station and were not recorded in the official figures.

According to the Electoral Commission, 4% of non-voters gave voter ID as the reason that they did not vote (7% when given a list of options). Similarly, Ipsos polling found that 8% of people said that voter ID made them less likely to want to vote in the local elections, suggesting that voter ID has had a chilling effect on turnout.2Ipsos UK (2023) written evidence (VID0010) House of Lords Constitution Committee inquiry into voter ID.

The Electoral Commission survey showed that unemployed and disabled non-voters were more likely to say that they didn’t vote because they didn’t have ID, and that young people and people from black and minority ethnic communities were more likely to have not been able to vote because they turned up without ID.

More deprived areas had a higher proportion of voters turned away compared to less deprived areas.

The Electoral Commission research also shows that the impact at a General Election would likely be much higher. The data shows that people who don’t generally vote in local elections were less aware of the requirement (84% compared to 94%) and less likely to have the required ID (7% of people who never vote in local election compared to 2% of people who always do).

Research into the impact on electoral services by the LGIU found that voter ID has added to existing pressures on electoral administrators, increasing stress, adding complexity, and making it harder to find staff for polling stations.3LGIU (2023) The Impact of Voter ID: the view from administrators.

They also found that electoral administrators were ‘unconvinced’ that the introduction of voter ID had reduced public concerns about fraud and noted that voters had raised complaints that voter ID had been introduced for political reasons. The report warns that potential risks to public confidence in elections needs to be addressed.

Following the local elections, the cross-party Democracy and the Constitution APPG inquiry concluded that Voter ID is a “poisoned cure” in that it disenfranchises more electors than it protects.4ICDR (2023) Voter ID inquiry.

The inquiry found that voter ID brings with it a risk of injustice and discrimination, highlighting that the standard that ID documents need to meet is unclear, that the approved list of ID ‘appears arbitrary’, and that there is significant scope for unequal application of the rules. The report also highlights that there is no immediate right to appeal for those who have been denied a ballot.

Two areas that don’t appear to have been impacted are voters’ perception of how secure in-person voting is (which remains at the same level after the introduction of voter ID), and the instances of personation fraud. The government’s report concluded that the evidence is ‘inconclusive’ on whether the scheme has reduced personation or made it more easily identifiable. Two cases of personation fraud were reported to the police at the local elections – consistent with previous years. The same government report notes that ‘all groups’ in their research ‘held the perception that fraud was more likely to be conducted via postal or proxy voting’.5Dept for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (2023) Electoral Integrity Programme evaluation: year 1

What are the main issues?

Voter ID creates a barrier to voting for many.

Unlike most countries which require ID to vote, there is no universal ID card in the UK, leaving many people without the ID needed. Whilst a voter authority certificate has been made available, 56% of respondents to the government commissioned survey said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to apply for an ID document, and 42% of those with no photo ID said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to apply.6IFF Research (2021). Photographic ID Research – headline findings.  Only 25,000 Voter Authority Certificates were used as ID in local elections 2023. This is far fewer than the number of people estimated to need one to vote in those elections (between 250,000 and 300,000).7Electoral Commission (2023) Voter ID at the May 2023 local elections, interim analysis.

The government’s own research finds that older voters (aged 85+) are less likely to have ID that is recognisable (91% compared to 95%–98% for those in younger age groups) and that those with severely limiting disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before, were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID.8Ibid  Post-election research in 2023 confirms that these groups were more likely not to have voted because they didn’t have ID.

Voter ID is putting up another barrier to people who are already likely to be less engaged in democracy and may already find it difficult to participate.

Confidence in the voting system could be undermined.

As it stands, confidence in our elections is high. The last Electoral Commission tracker, prior to the introduction of voter ID (2022), found that public confidence that voting at polling stations is safe from fraud and abuse was at 87%. In the most recent 2023 tracker it was at 85%. However, research findings suggest that there has been some public concern around the introduction of the voter ID scheme9LGIU (2023) The Impact of Voter ID: the view from administrators.  and some people have chosen not to vote because of it.10Electoral Commission (2023) Voter ID at the May 2023 local elections, interim analysis.  The potential for the rules to be applied unevenly, or for the scheme to impact electoral outcomes, could damage perceptions of electoral integrity.

At the same time there does not appear to be an increase in how secure the public perceive in-person voting to be, after the introduction of ID. The Electoral Commission found that whilst 84% of respondents to their post-poll survey rated voting at the polling station as secure, the results “are similar to those recorded after previous comparable elections and should not be directly linked to the introduction of the voter ID requirement.”11Electoral Commission (2023) Voter ID at the May 2023 local elections, interim analysis.

The voter ID scheme is a solution looking
for a problem.

Out of all alleged cases of electoral fraud in the 2019 elections, only 33 related to personation fraud at the polling station12Uberoi, E. and Johnston, N. (2021). Voter ID. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, number 9187.  – this comprises 0.000057% of the over 58 million votes cast in all the elections that took place that year. Only one of those allegations resulted in a conviction, and one a caution.13Electoral Commission (2020) 2019 Electoral Fraud Data.  Despite this, the voter ID scheme introduced in the Elections Act is one of the most restrictive with only a limited number of photographic IDs deemed acceptable and no alternatives for voters who turn up without ID.

The government assessment notes that there were just two allegations of personation at the May 2023 elections which is ‘consistent’ with previous elections – before the introduction of the ID scheme. The government report also concluded that the evidence is ‘inconclusive’ on whether the scheme has reduced personation or made it more easily identifiable.14Dept for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (2023) Electoral Integrity Programme evaluation: year 1

What can be done about it?

Given the problems with the scheme to date and the lack of evidence of a need for strict photo ID laws in the UK, the ERS believes voter ID should be scrapped. However, there are also several ways to improve the scheme.

Expand the list of acceptable identity documents

Increasing the range of acceptable identity documents, including non-photographic ID, and IDs that voters are likely to be carrying on them (such as bank cards), would make the scheme more proportional. The Pickles report ‘Securing the ballot’, which first suggested introducing ID, recommended that: “There is no need to be over elaborate; measures should enhance public confidence and be proportional.”

Many of the pilots of voter ID included poll cards and/or non-photographic identification. When it introduced voter ID, Northern Ireland did not initially require solely photographic ID – elections took place for almost 20 years with a less stringent ID requirement.

Include poll cards

In the 2018 Voter ID pilots, areas which allowed poll cards to be used as identification along with other forms of photo ID recorded the lowest percentages of voters not returning with correct ID (Swindon 0.06% and 0.2% Watford). In Swindon, 95% of voters produced their poll card instead of another form of ID, 87% in Watford.

Similarly, the poll card pilots in 2019 recorded lower percentages of voters being turned away than the photo ID or mixed ID models. In the poll card pilots (Mid Sussex, NW Leicestershire, Watford) 93% of voters produced a poll card instead of an alternative form of ID.

Introduce vouching

Vouching is used in some US states and in Canada. The vouching system allows for another voter, who has ID, to vouch for someone who doesn’t. The person vouching for someone else signs an affidavit which means there is a paper trail should any irregularities need to be investigated. The House of Lords Constitution Committee recommended vouching (attestation) in their recent inquiry.15Constitution Committee (2023) Voter ID inquiry news. 19 December 2023.

Allow for statutory declarations

Measures to allow voters to cast provisional ballots or sign an affidavit attesting to their identity are common in countries requiring voter ID. Even the US states with the strictest photo ID laws allow for provisional ballots to be cast and later verified.16NCSL (2024) Voter ID laws https://www.ncsl.org/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id#Table%201  The Democracy and the Constitution APPG report recommends allowing voters to ‘cure’ any failure to produce the required documentation by making a statutory declaration on the day of the poll.

Continue to collect data and improve data collection

It is essential that the impact of voter ID is monitored and that data collection is detailed and robust to ensure that we have a full picture of how this change is affecting voters.

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