While Boris Johnson could come back with ID, many ordinary voters don’t have that luxury

Mike Wright, Head of Communications

Posted on the 3rd May 2024

News that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was turned away from voting as he went to a polling station without an accepted form of ID caused widespread amusement on social media yesterday. According to media reports, Johnson later returned with an accepted ID and cast his vote.

His colleague on the government benches, Tom Hunt MP, also had to seek out an emergency proxy as he couldn’t find his passport.

While the spectacle of the former PM being caught out by a law he passed understandably caused hilarity, it also drew attention to others who were caught out by this unnecessary and poorly thought-through legislation.

Voters turned away with government-issued photo ID

Last year we reported on Police Officers being turned away from polling stations as Police Warrant cards don’t count as voter ID. This year, a decorated former army office and Afghanistan veteran, was turned away because his veteran’s ID is not an accepted form of ID. Adam Driver said he was ‘gutted’ to be ‘turned away from the door’ when he went to try and cast his vote in the local elections. His tweet prompted an apology from veterans minister, Johnny Mercer, who said he would ‘do all I can’ to get veteran’s cards added to the list of acceptable ID.

As it stands, ID cards for active servicemen and women are valid for voting, but not those issued to veterans. The government promised to rectify the baffling discrepancy between active and former services personnel as far back as 2021, but three years later veterans are being turned away from polling stations.

Chaos and confusion at the polling station

These two differing tales threw into sharp relief the daft and inexplicable inconsistencies that voter ID rules are riddled with, often creating a two-tier democracy for who gets to cast their vote and who don’t.

From the start, the ERS and other democracy organisations argued that bringing in voter ID was an unnecessary and damaging measure. It has always been a solution in search of a problem. Levels of personation – where someone pretends to be another person at a polling station to cast their vote – have been extremely low. For instance, there have only been only 10 convictions between 2019 and 2023 out of tens of millions of votes cast.

Voter ID is causing problems were there were no real ones before

At last year’s local elections, at least 14,000 voters were turned away polling stations due to a lack of acceptable ID and never returned, according to the Electoral Commission. That figure likely underplays the true number of people affected by voter ID as it doesn’t count people who stayed at home as they don’t have an accepted ID. While voters without acceptable ID can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate, more than 2 million people are estimated not to possess any of the accepted forms of ID.

Voting is a fundamental democratic right, and no one should be barred from casting a vote they are entitled to. The fact is our inconsistent and arbitrary voter ID law has already prevented thousands of people from voting and even wrongfooted the prime minister who brought into law.

Participation is the lifeblood of our democracy and anything that stops people voting weakens it, as well as trust in politics.

At the very least, the types of acceptable ID needs to be vastly expanding so people are not caught out and turned away from polling stations due to illogical requirements.

But, ultimately, even that will only be a sticking plaster. We scrap this damaging and disproportionate policy before stops any more people exercising their basic democratic right to vote.

It’s clear that this scheme is a disaster – it’s time for a rethink

Add your name to our call to scrap this policy

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