Voter ID rules criticised by MPs, election watchdog and election administrators

Mike Wright, Head of Communications

Posted on the 15th September 2023

This week three separate independent reports have exposed the extent of the unnecessary damage voter ID has wrought to our democracy. Voter ID was rushed through for the local elections in May which meant voters needed to produce a government-approved form of identification before they voted.

An interim report by the Electoral Commission published earlier this year showed that at least 14,000 people were prevented from casting their vote, after being turned away from polling stations and not returning. Further reports this week by the Electoral Commission, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and the Constitution, and the Local Government Information Unit, have now shed further light on how this policy has affected voters.

“some people found it harder than others to show accepted voter ID, including disabled people and the unemployed”

The Electoral Commission: Report on the May 2023 local elections in England

The Electoral Commission released its full report on voter ID at the local elections and found that it had a disproportionate effect on disabled and unemployed voters, who were more likely not to vote due to not having ID. It also found a greater proportion of 18-25-year-olds as well as people from ethnic minority backgrounds said they had turned up to polls without ID.

The report called for a number of changes to the ID rules including reviewing the types of acceptable ID, allowing for vouching (where one voter attests for another), giving people without an accepted form of ID more time to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate, and to improve the data collected on who is affected by voter ID. The report concluded: “It is crucial that improvements are made at the earliest opportunity, particularly given there are important elections that are due to be held during the next 18 months, to improve accessibility and support those people who do not have an accepted form of ID”.

The current voter-ID system is, as it stands, a “poisoned cure” in that it disenfranchises more electors than it protects

The APPG on Democracy and the Constitution: Voter ID – What went wrong and how to fix it

This report found that voter ID had had a disproportionate impact on different people and warned that the “inherent ambiguity in the regime creates a real risk of injustice and potential discrimination.” The report highlighted the case of an immunocompromised woman who was turned away from a polling station after she refused to remove her mask to be identified. The report added: “The current voter-ID system is, as it stands, a ‘poisoned cure’ in that it disenfranchises more electors than it protects.”

Administrators were unconvinced that the introduction of voter ID has reduced public concerns about fraud

Local Government Information Unit: The Impact of Voter ID: The Views of Administrators

The Unit warned in its report that it “is still not clear that voter ID brings any benefits to the process” of elections and that electoral works did not see personation fraud “as a major issue” prior to the 2023 elections. However, it warned that voter ID had put additional pressures on electoral and polling station staff and warned that action is needed to “stop these invisible pressures from developing into unignorable election failures.”

Three reports, three different areas of failure for voter ID

These three reports lay bare in stark fashion how voter ID has made it disproportionately harder for different groups of voters to exercise their basic democratic right and also threatens to cause problems in the coming general election. We should be looking to strengthen our democracy by increasing turnout and increasing access to voting, not throwing unnecessary barriers in front of people.

With just one conviction and one caution for personation fraud recorded at the 2019 election, voter ID was always a solution in search of a problem. Yet now we can see it has caused problems with our elections that were not there before.

It’s clear that the Government needs to scrap this unnecessary and damaging policy before the next general election, or at the very least make sweeping changes to prevent it from causing major disruption.

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