Voter Suppression in ActionThousands in England Denied a Vote as Exclusive Snapshot of Photo ID Rollout Revealed
Byline Times publishes first evidence of the scale of voter disenfranchisement in England in this month’s local elections
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An investigation shared with Byline Times has revealed that thousands of people were turned away from the ballot box and didn’t return under the new mandatory voter ID rules – in contrast to the handful of cases of in-person voter fraud over the past decade.
Research gathered from councils by former BBC head of political research David Cowling has unearthed major disparities in the implementation of the Voter ID rollout across England in this month’s local elections.
Out of 31 councils for which Cowling has collated data, councils turned away an average of 0.27% of voters. On average, 61% of these people returned to vote. But it leaves an average of 39% of voters who were turned away who did not return – effectively meaning they were denied a vote.
In total, 16,201 voters across 53 council areas were turned away – and 6,036 did not return to vote.
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Manchester, Sandwell, and Walsall reported the highest figures turned away, with 1,649, 1,135, and 797 electors respectively being denied a ballot due to issues with photo ID. In Manchester, 539 of them did not return, in Sandwell – 340, and in Walsall, 294.
In Dudley, a whopping 84% of the 232 electors turned away did not come back to vote. In Herefordshire, it was 59%. Telford, Knowsley, Stockport and NE Lincs all saw a majority of those turned away not come back to vote.
Sandwell had the highest proportion of voters turned away for lack of ID, at 2.1%. In Manchester, it was 1.7% and in Walsall 1.6%. In Barnsley and Sunderland, it was around 0.2%. It is not clear if they used “greeters” outside the polling station which may have reduced the numbers recorded at the front desk who were turned away.
Last year there was not a single conviction for voter impersonation in Britain.
The non-returners as a percentage of all votes cast range from 0.13% to 0.64%, representing individuals who were turned away from the ballot box due to voter ID issues and didn’t return.
The findings also give the first detailed snapshot of turnout. Manchester, Sandwell, and Walsall had low turnouts of 25%, 23%, and 25% respectively, with the vast majority of the electorate appearing disengaged from local politics. In contrast, Brighton & Hove emerges as a comparative beacon of civic duty with a 40.8% turnout. Still, a majority of voters abstained.
Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson Helen Morgan MP said: “From the outset, this voter ID law was anti-democratic and frankly anti-British. It is shameful that so many voters were turned away when exercising their right to vote…
“There must be an investigation into the real reason Conservative Ministers pushed ahead with this reform and an apology issued to the thousands of voices silenced by these new laws.”
Tom Brake, director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy, said the findings “confirm it is highly likely tens of thousands of people were turned away on May 4th, and tens of thousands more won’t have left home because they knew they needed ID they didn’t have.”
He added: “ The Government’s claim that photo voter ID was about the integrity of our elections has been comprehensively demolished. Instead it proved extremely damaging. There is only one way out of this quagmire – we are calling on all the party leaders to commit to scrapping photo voter ID.”
Good Law Project is currently crowdfunding for a legal challenge to the voter ID policy on the basis that it unfairly discriminates between groups who are less likely to hold photo ID.
Its founder and director Jolyon Maugham KC told Byline Times: “Labour was only 2,200 votes away from leading a progressive alliance in 2017. So these numbers – which will fail to capture large numbers of people who were turned away by greeters or who didn’t even try to vote because they didn’t have ID – are very significant indeed.
“If the Conservative Party was interested in improving democracy it would prioritise rooting out dirty funding for political parties. But, of course, unlike inhibiting voters, it won’t benefit from that change.
“Good Law Project will be launching a legal challenge against these rules before the General Election to stop many thousands more being deprived of their right to vote”.
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A Liverpool City Council spokesperson told Byline Times 99.6% of electors attending a polling station were able to vote, adding: “The Council undertook a citywide campaign to raise awareness of the need for Voter ID and what was acceptable. This included information in Council Tax bills, an email to electors, advertisements on the city’s network of outdoor digital screens, leaflets delivered with poll cards, information in council newsletters and social media plus traditional media coverage via press releases.”
Jacqui Gedman, Returning Officer for Kirklees Council, said the local authority ran an “extensive communications campaign” to let residents know about the new requirements.
“There were 100,055 votes cast by eligible voters in Kirklees, with 54,816 of those votes being cast at polling stations across the district. There were 270 voters that did not return to the polling station after being initially refused a ballot paper due to not having the correct ID,” Gedman added.
And she said the council would be “expanding our electoral outreach programme” ahead of the next election to inform and support residents on photo ID options “with an aim to reduce the impact of new rules across the area.”
Sandwell Returning Officer Shokat Lal said the council carried out a “comprehensive campaign” to make sure people were aware of the new legislation. Around 1,300 Sandwell residents applied for a Voter Authority Certificate because they did not have any accepted photo ID. “We understand this to be one of the highest figures for VACs nationwide and shows there was a high level of awareness of the new requirements,” Lal said.
The council spokesperson added: “The vast majority of people (36,889) – more than 99% – who chose to vote at a polling station in Sandwell provided an accepted form of photo ID and were issued with a ballot paper. A ballot paper cannot be issued legally under the new legislation without showing accepted ID.”
It comes after Byline Times revealed there is unlikely to be any investigation into former Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg’s claims that Boris Johnson’s Government introduced mandatory voter ID in order to “gerrymander” elections in the Conservatives’ favour, Byline Times can reveal.
Rees-Mogg was part of Johnson’s Cabinet, which introduced plans to force voters to present photo ID at polling stations. He told the National Conservatism Conference earlier this month in London that the policy was a “clever scheme” by his party to swing voters in their favour.
But he said this had “backfired” due to more older Conservative voters being less aware of the changes at the recent local elections in England.
Initially referring to reports that Labour plans to lower the voting age to 16, he said: “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections.”
Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman said the stories of voters being disenfranchised were “very concerning”. Asked if the party would repeal the ID policy, he said: “We’ll have a look at the official reports that there are in the works that the Electoral Commission or others are doing, and others are doing and obviously reach a conclusion at that point as to the best way forward.”
He added: “The reporting is very concerning about the number of people who were either disenfranchised by being turned away – or who didn’t bother to go to the polling station in the first place over concerns over the new rules.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the average council saw 0.65% of voters turned away and not returning. The correct figure is 0.27%.
View the full spreadsheet of preliminary results from councils here.
|All Councils||Total votes cast||% Turnout||Electors turned away||%||Electors who returned||%||Electors who did not return||%||Non-returners|
as % of all votes
|Brighton & Hove||83,426||40.8||335||0.4||213||63.6||122||36.4||0.15|
|Telford & W||44,887||109||0.24||49||45||60||55||0.13|
|Redcar & Cleve||107||52||48.6||55||41.4|
Credit for data: David Cowling
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