LOCAL ELECTIONS 2023VOTER SUPPRESSION WATCHVoters Turned Away Without Photo ID Across England Amid Local Elections Concerns
‘It’s totally unnecessary… They are disenfranchising people.’ Josiah Mortimer and colleagues report from across England as ID is rolled out for the first time.
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Byline Times has spoken to dozens of voters affected by mandatory photo ID as the scheme is rolled out for the first time nationally in England today.
There are fears that thousands will be turned away for lacking the right kind of identification – with two million people in Britain lacking valid ID and just 85,000 people signing up for the government’s free ID before the deadline.
This paper – which is reporting from half a dozen English counties about the rollout – spoke to a woman in Luton, whose passport was with a solicitor. Her only ID was a photo of it, which wasn’t accepted and she was turned away. Despite guidance showing that she could apply for an emergency proxy vote, the woman (who didn’t wish to be named) wasn’t informed of this.
She told Byline Times she would try to get her passport back from the solicitor and come back to vote, though we cannot confirm if she did so.
One polling clerk in Luton said: “I have turned quite a few people away for not having correct ID. Some have come back, some say they’ll be back when they pick kids up from school.“ How many actually will?
There were also concerns over whether those being turned away would be recorded. While clerks are supposed to log the number of voters who are turned away as they vote, this will not include those who are turned away beforehand by so-called “meeter greeters” outside, or on seeing signs reminding them about ID outside.
Manchester voter Steve Morgan said that in his local polling station there was a “desk before [people] got to the polling clerk where they asked [if you had ID].” He added: “The polling clerk said they hadn’t turned anyone away – but that’s probably because the first desk is [before them].”
And Byline Times reader Shan Oaked urged people: “Do not allow them to turn you away from voting without going inside to the poll clerk, so that it gets recorded.”
Electors can apply for an emergency proxy if they have lost their ID after April 25, or it was damaged or stolen since then. They can also apply if the photo ID they intended to use becomes unavailable after 5pm on Tuesday 25 April and they do not have a different form of accepted photo ID. They must apply by 5pm Thursday. Simply not having ID is not a valid reason to get a proxy vote, though some presiding officers are likely to use their discretion.
Paul Turner, a voter in Petersfield, East Hampshire, told Byline Times he witnessed three people get turned away for lacking ID within just five minutes. The poll clerk there was reportedly “adamant” that people were “encouraged to come back with ID”.
Kathy Hodgson, a Green candidate in West Berks, and a postal worker until recently, told us several people she knows – including her daughter – didn’t get their postal vote in time, amid Royal Mail delays.
She said: “A member of the party reapplied for a postal vote as she’d not received the original – both arrived yesterday. My daughter is not so lucky. Hers still hadn’t arrived by yesterday, she’s a paramedic on nights but managed to get through to the council only to be told that it had been sent…She asked for an emergency proxy vote but was told she doesn’t qualify as she hasn’t lost her ID.”
One Twitter several voters told Byline Times they had not received their postal votes in time. Royal Mail faces a huge backlog following a wave of strike action.
Tony Isles, a party teller in Luton, says voter ID is “another barrier” to people voting today. “I think voter ID is a pain in the arse. It’s OK for me but I know for some people it will put them off. Not everyone has a photo ID…They will have to spend time trying to get one. Not many people will.” He argued some people will lose their vote: “It’s the apathy. This is another barrier in front of them – so they’re definitely not going to vote.”
He added: “This area is working class, diverse, there’s poverty. All these things get in the way of voting.”
One poll clerk told a Bylines Network reporter in Oxfordshire she couldn’t “understand the logic” of accepting Older Persons’ bus passes and not student ID.
There were anecdotal reports of higher-than-usual numbers of postal votes in some parts of the country, as ID isn’t currently required to vote by post. One polling clerk told Derby Bylines writer Ann Well there were “far more” postal votes this time compared to usual, and there hadn’t been the usual “post-school drop-off rush.”
Also in Luton, one would-be voter, Anne Dwyer, brought her ID to vote but was told that her electoral registration didn’t go through. She was “fuming”. “They’ve mucked it up. I’ve always been registered to vote,” she said, adding she was minded to not vote again in future.
South ward resident Dave Taylor claimed voting was a “slow process” in Luton. “I showed my ID, that was fine…I knew what I needed to bring, unlike the lady you just spoke to. She brought a photocopy of her passport.”
He added: “I think [ID] is confusing to a lot of people. It’s totally unnecessary to be honest…[Fraud] is very rare. What’s to tell me that lady is not going to come back? To say ‘why bother’? You are disenfranchising people. The turnout will be reduced, no doubt about it.”
In Woking, elections today follow a trial of the scheme in the area in 2018. There is a notice at the Woking History Centre polling station directing people where to vote, and reminding them of penalties for misconduct and voter fraud.
One voter told Byline Times he knew “quite a few” people who didn’t bother voting during the trials because of the ID requirement. A younger voter who had ID said he was “not happy about it, because some people – poorer people – do not have ID.”
As a snapshot, turnout in central Woking appeared low, with around 25 voters by 10am at one town centre polling station. People used a mix of ID but several said they were unhappy with the new rule. “Some people are definitely going to be left out,” Huw Davies said. He added: “It’s voter suppression. There’s no problem with voter fraud.”
Maurice Sauer had no problem voting but said the ID rollout had “rushed”: “Having that something extra to find in a relatively short time might inhibit some people.”
Jade Edwards, a Conservative candidate there said: “We reminded people about ID every single time we talked to people on the doorstep.” She believed that every party in Woking had done the same to remind people about ID. But she worried that language barriers could mean some voters do not know about the new rules. “The local parties have done their best to tell people to note forget to register to vote or bring ID. It’s just talking about fair democracy.”
With additional reporting from Catherine Avery (a pseudonym) and Peter Burke.