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Fears of Discrimination as Scale of Voters Denied a Vote by Lack of Photo ID in By-Elections to Remain ‘Unknown’

The Electoral Commission has highlighted a black-hole in its research on the impact of voter ID ahead of the next General Election

More than 14,000 people were denied a vote in England’s local elections this May – but the impact will be unmonitored next time around. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA/Alamy

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The number of voters turned away from the ballot box for lacking photo ID is likely to remain unknown following this month’s by-elections, after it emerged that the official elections watchdog is not obliged to monitor the impact of the new policy until the next General Election. 

There is no requirement for the Electoral Commission to monitor who is hit by the new mandatory voter ID rules – with upcoming by-elections and next year’s local elections set to go without comprehensive checks on the numbers being denied a vote. 

In an address to the international Electoral Integrity Project conference, the Electoral Commission’s head of research warned that there could be a big gap in England’s understanding of who mandatory voter ID is affecting. 

There are three by-elections set for 20 July. Somerton and Frome will see the Liberal Democrats fight for the Conservative-held seat, after the resignation of David Warburton. This came after he admitted to taking cocaine and was found to have behaved inappropriately around a young female staffer (he denies the latter). 

The resignation of Boris Johnson-loyalist Nigel Adams, following the publication of the Privileges Committee’s report into the former Prime Minister’s ‘Partygate’ claims, has triggered another by-election in Selby and Ainsty on the same day. Labour and the Lib Dems are both fighting to take it.  

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And in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Johnson’s resignation has launched a fierce battle between Conservatives and Labour’s Danny Beales to take the outer London Tory-stronghold.

Phil Thompson, head of research and evaluation at the Electoral Commission, expressed his concerns over the absence of data.

“We are not required to collect data next May for the elections in London and elsewhere in the local elections,” he said. “We’ve said that it would be really good to do that and get that information. It means we have no data between now and the next election, which is obviously a bigger game.”

The absence of data on who is being hit by the new rules raises concerns about the potential for discrimination. Those who lack photo ID tend to be on lower incomes and from certain minority groups, including Roma and traveller communities. 

Peter Stanyon, of the Association of Electoral Administrators, highlighted the limited reporting requirements under the current legislation. He said: “It’s not in the legislation to report on the impact of ID except at the General Election… I do have worries going into the next General Election.” 

Experts caution that the full impact and consequences of these measures are yet to be fully understood, despite monitoring by the Electoral Commission in England’s recent local elections. It found that 14,000 people were turned away and didn’t come back – effectively being denied a vote over the new ID policy. 

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‘Serious Consequences for Democracy’

Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research for the Electoral Reform Society, said: “It is imperative that there is proper monitoring and assessment of the impact of voter ID on the upcoming by-elections. 

“We need to have a clear picture of how the new requirements affect voters on the day, especially in areas that didn’t have local elections in May and will be experiencing the need to show ID to vote for the first time.”

She added that it was “vital” that further evidence is gathered to help prevent similar scenes unfolding at a future general election as at the recent local elections.

“If thousands of people feel they are prevented from voting at a general election it could have serious consequences for the public’s trust in democracy,” Dr Garland added. 

Unlock Democracy is calling for the legislation to be amended to ensure that, for all elections until further notice, returning officers are required to capture information on those turned away. 

The democracy group’s director and former Lib Dem MP, Tom Brake, said: “Conveniently failing to collect data on the number of voters turned away won’t disguise the fact that photo voter ID is stopping large numbers of eligible voters from voting. This policy is unnecessary, costly and discriminatory and must be scrapped.”

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Pledge for Some Checks

An Electoral Commission spokesperson confirmed to Byline Times that the watchdog is only required under the Elections Act 2022 to report on the first local election following its implementation, and the two subsequent General Elections – including next year’s.  

“The Elections Act does not require local authorities to collect data on the number of people turned away at the polling station for not having ID at future local elections in England or parliamentary by-elections,” the spokesperson said. “They are required to collect this data at UK parliamentary general elections. 

“We are encouraging local authorities to continue collecting this data for all elections to ensure we can understand the impact of the policy. We are planning to collect the data on voter ID from the local authorities running upcoming parliamentary by-elections, where this data is available.”

The Electoral Commission produces reports on the delivery of local elections across the UK, as well as UK parliamentary general elections and devolved elections. The watchdog says it will be including polling questions specific to voter ID as part of this research at next year’s local elections and will be analysing the data in its reports. 

John Ault, who runs the monitoring group Democracy Volunteers, said: “Clearly we and others should try to collect as much data as possible about the introduction of Voter ID.”

He is also concerned that we do not yet know who was rejected from obtaining Voter Authority Certificates – councils’ free form of photo ID – at the recent local elections. Around 80,000 people successfully applied for one but only a third of them were used on the day. 


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