Voter ID:Bouncers at the Ballot Box Could Turn Away Thousands in May Elections with No Right of Appeal
Up to two million people could be denied a vote unless they apply for ID – and even those with ID could be turned away by polling staff, reports Josiah Mortimer
Voters will have no right to appeal if they are denied a vote after polling staff refuse to accept their identification this May, Byline Times can reveal.
Around two million people are estimated to lack the “right” kind of photo identification in Britain – meaning they will have to purchase ID or apply for a new free form of ID through gov.uk or their local council.
But even when they have ID, voters can be turned away this May in swathes of England if “the Presiding Officer decided that the photographic ID raised a reasonable doubt about the identity of the elector, the Presiding Officer reasonably suspected the photographic ID was a forged document, or if the elector failed to answer a prescribed question satisfactorily.”
The official guidance states: “Where a decision to issue a ballot paper is referred to the Presiding Officer, the Presiding Officer’s decision is final.” In other words – there is no form of appeal.
The new guidance published by the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, features a Q&A of a voter asking: “who can I complain to if I am unhappy that my ID has been refused?”
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The answer given is: “If you are unhappy about any aspect of voting in the polling station, you can raise your concerns with the Returning Officer. However, there is no ability to appeal against the Presiding Officer’s decision to refuse to issue you with a ballot paper on grounds relating to voter ID.”
The presiding officer in each polling station will have final say on rejecting voters in disputes over their ID, with votes able to be refused on a number of grounds. They include believing that “the photograph was not a good likeness,” believing that the photographic ID was “a forgery”, or arguing that the voter “failed to answer the prescribed questions satisfactorily”. Questions include outlining the first line of their address.
A full briefing to election officials tells them to assess: “Does the person have any distinguishing features e.g. moles, scars etc? Compare the shape of the face and look at the position of the main features (e.g. eyes, ears, nose, mouth) in relation to the rest of the person’s face.”
Staff are told to “check that the holder’s name as shown on the photographic ID matches the elector’s entry on the electoral register….You should check that the photographic ID appears to be genuine and not forged…Does the ID resemble the type of document it purports to be?…Is there any damage or signs of tampering, especially in areas where the photo or name is shown?”
Bouncers at the Ballot Box
Polling officials face a barrage of new administrative burdens due to the rollout of mandatory voter ID in England’s local elections this May.
One senior election official in an area with elections told Byline Times: “There’s no wriggle room for the polling staff. We will have to say: ‘It’s tough, come back later’ if people forget their ID.
They added: “The numbers of staff we’re going to have to recruit…it’s dicey. [Staff] are definitely not going to come back to turn people away. They didn’t sign up for that.”
Council offices are planning to raise wages for temporary polling staff – as well as hiring an additional member of staff for every single polling station to check ID.
“We will also be understaffed…We haven’t got funding to boost wages – but we do for an additional member of staff at each polling station at the previous pay rates,” they added.
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Recruiting from Jobcentres can be difficult as it can disrupt people’s Universal Credit claims. The official – who requested to remain anonymous – added: “They say: ‘It will cost me X in sanctions – it’s not worth it.’”
Local authorities are expecting that around 6% of voters could have to be turned away unless large numbers sign up to free Voter Authority Certificates ahead of May.
There are fears election spats could also become more likely if there are disputes over who was turned away from the ballot box – and whether there was a partisan bias. “The chance of more election petitions is likely. You’ll get hauled over the coals. They cost money. Reputationally – what will our residents think with a rise in election challenges? It reduces confidence in the system,” the senior official added.
The Department for Levelling Up is understood to believe that people having their ID rejected would not be grounds for an election result to be overturned. A source added that people already get turned away anyway “for various reasons”.
Some councils are worried about abuse faced by staff on the day if they reject potential voters. “They will have to say they’re just following orders. Normally there’s a workaround if someone registered late or made a mistake on a form. With this, it’s ‘computer says no’. You will get people saying: ‘I’ve been voting here for 40 years’”. However, the Department for Levelling Up – overseeing the voter ID implementation – argues there’s no evidence from the voter ID pilot studies that abuse will be an issue.
Democracy groups are likely to challenge the voter ID law – part of the Elections Act 2022 – in the courts if large numbers of people are turned away unfairly or in a discriminatory way this May.
Last month, Naomi Smith, chief executive of better democracy campaign group Best for Britain branded voter ID a “naked attempt by this Government to disenfranchise those less likely to vote Tory” – albeit one which is “backfiring”, with many of their own voters similarly unaware of the new requirements.
“Polling stations across the country lack the time and resources to implement this barely disguised exercise in voter suppression,” she added.
Recent analysis by the Greater London Authority published today has also found that half a million Londoners do not possess a passport, while more than 2.6 million Londoners do not have a full driving licence, with women less likely to have one. Only around one in five (18%) of disabled Londoners would be able to present a Freedom Pass as ID, if required.
The introduction of voter ID in England comes after the Government changed the voting system for mayoral elections from the two-preference system of supplementary vote to first-past-the-post – effectively penalising smaller party voters like the Greens and Liberal Democrats that are more likely to have transferred their vote to Labour. Labour figures including London Mayor Sadiq Khan have branded the move a partisan stitch-up.
Speaking to Byline Times for a previous piece, Ailsa Irvine, director of electoral administration at the Electoral Commission, said: “The availability of free ID is important to maintaining the accessibility of elections. We are calling on all voters to check whether they have an accepted form of ID, and if not, to apply for the certificate.
“We know from research that the vast majority of people already have the ID they need. Those voters only need to remember to bring it with them on polling day. However, anyone who doesn’t currently have photo ID can now apply for free voter ID.” More information can be found on the Electoral Commission’s website.
Our poll also found that the public overestimates the amount of voter fraud taking place in the UK. 63% said they believed there were either hundreds or thousands of cases of in-person voting fraud detected at the last general election. However, Electoral Commission records show there was in fact just one conviction for in-person voting fraud across the entire country.
A spokesman for Rishi Sunak told Byline Times‘s political editor Adam Bienkov in January that the new measures were “reasonable” in order to combat “potential fraud”. He added: “This is something that has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2003 with no significant concerns and we believe it is a totally reasonable approach to combat potential fraud in our system”.
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