Voters are being treated as guinea pigs in this year’s local elections

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 2nd May 2024

Today, the 2nd May, millions of voters will head to the polls to elect more than 2,500 councillors, 37 police and crime commissioners, 10 metro mayors, 1 MP (by-election in Blackpool South) and London Assembly Members.

Every eligible voter in England and Wales will have an opportunity to vote on May 2nd, but not in the same way we have traditionally. Following the Elections Act 2022, the government have made two big structural changes to the way we vote, treating voters as guinea pigs in their electoral experiments.

Millions of voters are using first past the post for the first time

For the first time voters in Wales, and in parts of England, will be required to bring Voter ID to vote in elections. The ERS has opposed the use of Voter ID since it was first proposed in the Pickles Report 2016, likening the report to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Elections are safe and secure in the UK, with only 10 convictions between 2019 and 2023 for people pretending to be other people at the polling station.

We do have an idea about what will happen with this experiment though. In the 2023 local election at least 14,000 electors were turned away because they lacked ID and did not return. The disenfranchisement of 14,000 voters in an effort to curtail a handful of voter fraud cases is very much a poisoned cure.

It’s now easier to be a Mayor or Police and Crime Commissioner

Another change which has not made as many headlines as the introduction of Voter ID is the change in the voting system for Police and Crime Commissioners and Metro Mayors from the traditional Supplementary Vote to First Past the Post.

With the traditional system, everyone marked who their first and second favourite candidate was, and if no candidate won a majority, they checked these choices to see which of the top two candidates were the most popular more broadly. It means these powerful positions can’t be controlled by just a small minority of the population.

In the smaller mayoral elections in 2023 we saw how this change could transform the outcome of the elected candidate. In Bedford the Conservatives took the mayoralty from the Liberal Democrat on 33%, only 145 votes more than the Lib Dem candidate. In 2019, the Lib Dem candidate won the race after 2nd preference votes were counted, giving them a 54% mandate.

We shouldn’t have mayors, with the power to sign off big budgets, without broad support.

Under First Past the Post, mayors do not have to try and win support outside their core voters and will be governing with a reduced mandate as a result.

Lowering the bar for politicians and raising it for voters

In essence, the changes to voting have raised the bar for voters by requiring Voter ID, and lowered the bar for politicians as FPTP allows them to govern without winning broad support.

They should be making it easier for voters to hold politicians to account, rather than trying out schemes in advance of the general election and ignoring the obvious impact.

Tell us how these changes have impacted you

Have you been turned away? Tell us what happened

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