Voter ID rules meant 14,000 couldn’t vote - disabled and unemployed likely to have been worst affected

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Labour has said the voter ID requirements have had a ‘chilling effect on democracy’

New voter ID requirements introduced ahead of the local elections in England by the Conservatives prevented around 14,000 people from casting a vote, according to the Electoral Commission.

Experts and campaigners had predicted the new rules would have a detrimental impact on voter turnout, while former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg seemed to describe the policy as an attempt at “gerrymandering” last month.

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NationalWorld previously reported that the rules would disproportionately impact disabled, LGBTQ+ and poorer people.

‘Concerning’

May’s local elections were the first time voters in Great Britain were required to show ID before collecting their ballot paper at polling stations. Passports, driving licences and blue badges were among the IDs permitted, as were the free certificates that could be applied for ahead of the vote.

Craig Westwood, director of communications at the Electoral Commission said there was “concerning” evidence that disabled and unemployed people were, according to the commission’s findings, “more likely than other groups to give a reason related to ID for not voting”.

In December, NationalWorld highlighted Government-commissioned research which showed disabled people and people in poor or very poor health are much less likely to have a form of functional photo ID.

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Commission officials said the data currently available suggested there is “some correlation” between the numbers turned away and “specific socio-demographic factors, such as ethnicity and unemployment”.

14,000 people were unable to vote in the local elections due to voter ID issues. Credit: Adobe/Getty14,000 people were unable to vote in the local elections due to voter ID issues. Credit: Adobe/Getty
14,000 people were unable to vote in the local elections due to voter ID issues. Credit: Adobe/Getty | Adobe/Getty

The watchdog is calling for work to be carried out to make sure elections remain accessible to all.The ID policy will be widened to cover UK general elections from the autumn, meaning it is likely to be a requirement at the next Westminster election, expected to take place in 2024.

Last month, former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to describe the introduction of voter ID as an attempt at “gerrymandering” that backfired against the Tories. Research published by the Electoral Commission on Friday indicated that 0.7% of people were initially turned away from polling stations in May, but around two-thirds of them returned later in the day and were able to vote.

It suggests that approximately 14,000 voters — 0.25% — who went to a polling station were not able to vote as a result of not being able to show ID. Among those recorded as being turned away from a polling station, 70% had not brought any ID and 30% brought a type that was not accepted.

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‘Too soon to draw conclusions’

The commission said its analysis indicated a “very high awareness” of the need to produce photo identification and that more than half of people were aware that free IDs, in the form of Government-issued voter authority certificates, were available.

Close to 90,000 people applied for a voter authority certificate before the deadline, and 81,033 certificates were issued ahead of the locals, the commission reported. However, only 25,000 were used as a form of ID on the day.

Westwood said: “The evidence suggests that the vast majority of voters were able to present an accepted form of ID at the May elections. But it also shows that some people were prevented from voting in polling stations due to the requirement, and significantly more did not attempt to because they lacked the required ID. Overall awareness was high and achieved in a matter of months, but we can see that people who lacked ID were less likely to know they needed to show it.

“We don’t want to see a single voter lose the opportunity to have their say. We are working to understand the challenges people faced, and will make recommendations that, with the engagement of Government and wider electoral community, will support the participation of all voters.”

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He said it was “too soon to draw conclusions” about the impact of the polling station policy on specific groups of people, but added that “some of the emerging evidence is concerning” in regards to its impact on disadvantaged people.

“Elections should be accessible to everyone, so we are working to build a better understanding of the specific experiences of voters at these elections. This includes consultation with those voters we know are most at risk of facing barriers to participation,” he added.

The data on voters recorded as turned away and the reasons for refusal was captured by polling station staff across England, the watchdog said. The commission plans to publish its full election report in September.

‘A chilling effect on democracy’

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner called for ministers to conduct a “comprehensive review into this discredited policy”, which she described as a “barrier to voting”.

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“No legitimate voter should be locked out of democracy but that has been the effect of the Tories’ failed voter ID regulations. This evidence suggests shows that as well as those turned away at polling stations, many others did not attempt to vote because they lacked the required ID.

“It’s particularly alarming that under-represented groups look to have been more likely to have denied their say by these new barriers to voting. These strict rules are having a chilling effect on democracy.”

Helen Morgan MP, the Liberal Democrats’ local government spokeswoman, said it was an “outrage” that thousands of people had been “denied a voice”.

“It looks like a transparent attempt at voter suppression by Conservative ministers who are desperate to stop people from holding them to account by any means possible,” she said.

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A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesman said: “It’s vital we keep our democracy secure, prevent the potential for voter fraud, and bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.

“We welcome the Electoral Commission’s interim report on the May’s local elections, which shows that the vast majority of voters – 99.75% – were able to cast their vote successfully and adapted well to the rollout of voter identification in Great Britain.

“These encouraging findings are also reflective of the confidence we always had in the ability of local authorities to implement these changes while continuing to deliver our elections robustly and securely.”

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