People were turned away from polling stations last week and they’ve told us why

Jon Narcross, former Communications Officer

Posted on the 17th May 2023

One of the big stories of May’s English local elections is not the results of the vote, but about the process of voting itself. For the first time, voters in England who headed to the polls needed to bring with them photographic ID.

One voter turned away is one too many and, since the polls closed, we’ve had dozens of people get in touch to say they were denied their vote on Thursday 4th of May.

We’ve compiled a few of the main reasons why people found themselves disenfranchised by these new rules.

Wrong ID

One of the main reasons voters got in touch with us about was being denied a ballot paper for having the wrong kind of ID.

We’ve written before about the kind of IDs that are accepted (a particularly restrictive list that is skewed in favour of certain demographics of voter) and the potential confusion that might cause. If you’re over 60 your Oyster card is valid, if you’re only 21 then it’s not. Some bus passes will pass the test whereas others won’t.

Police officerAllison was denied her ballot paper when she tried to use her police-issued warrant card as her ID:

“If my warrant card can enable me to identify myself in my duty to execute the law for the crown and government it should’ve been recognised to vote, especially when I read some people can use just a bus pass!”

Peter meanwhile was turned away when his old-style paper driving licence wasn’t accepted:

Retired man“I came with an old style driving licence.  The instructions on the voting form fall into the category known as constructive ambiguity.”

Other voters were turned away for trying to cast their ballot with a range of other IDs including Council photo ID, Royal Mail ID or the wrong type of bus pass.

Were not aware of the new rules

Other voters found themselves caught out by the new rules because they didn’t know about the change. Recent polling from the Electoral Commission found that just weeks before the election around a quarter of people were still unaware of the new rules.

Paul, a nurse, was one of the many voters who only found out about the changes when he arrived at the polling station:

“I did not have photo ID when I arrived at the polling station and was told I could not vote.  Only saw on my voting card when leaving the polling station that it was required. The first time in my voting life I have been prevented from voting in any election.”

Changed name

Other voters found that their ID was rejected as they had changed their surname so that their ID didn’t match the name on the electoral roll.


Fiona, who had recently and changed her surname, found herself turned away when the name on her ID didn’t match the council’s records.

“I am worried that women in their 20s-40s will be disproportionately affected for similar reasons and we don’t have things like free travel passes.”

Confusion at the polling station

Other voters found that the new rules, and the difficulty for the polling staff to identify which IDs were accepted and which weren’t, caused issues too.

AdrienAdrien was initially turned away after her EEA National ID card was rejected by staff. It was only when she pointed out the difference between an immigration document (not accepted) and the ID card (accepted) was she able to cast her ballot:

“I was able to vote because I insisted that my ID is acceptable.”

grandaughter and grannyJane, visited the polling station with her granddaughter who was initially turned away when she attempted to us a provisional driving license:

“What if I hadn’t challenged the initial decision! How many other potential voters have been told that their ID is not valid when in fact it is valid.”

As well as these examples we saw countless others who found themselves without the right kind of ID, using a photo of their ID or indeed any kind of ID at all.

We’ve long warned that these rules are confusing and unnecessary. In one council, Walsall, 767 voters were turned away and did not return.

That’s far far more than have been ever found to have committed personation – the kind of fraud these rules seek to address.

Ministers have committed to reviewing the impact of the policy after these elections. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll get data and analysis that will provide a fuller (if not complete) picture of the impact of these rules on our democracy – and we’ll hear of countless other examples of voters turned away

This review is a chance to think again about voter ID, which itself poses a more significant risk to free and fair elections in the UK than the problem it’s claimed to fix.

Join our call to scrap voter ID

Images for illustrative purposes only

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