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Young, unemployed, disabled and ethnic minority voters were more likely to be turned away from the polls in this year’s local elections, due to the Government’s new Voter ID laws, an official study by the Electoral Commission has found.
Rishi Sunak’s Government insists the restrictions, which force voters to show one of a number of approved photographic IDs, are designed to tackle the “perception” of voter fraud and are not an attempt to turn away groups less likely to vote for the Conservatives.
However, the Commission’s report, which looked at data from 18 local authorities, found that the policy appears to be disproportionately hitting voters in certain marginalised groups, with voters in deprived areas also more likely to be blocked from voting than those in wealthier areas. Historically, these groups of voters have been less likely to vote Conservative than the general population.
The study also found little to no evidence of the voter fraud that ministers claim the policy is actually designed to tackle. So far this year there have been just two allegations of attempted in-person voter fraud, neither of which resulted in the police taking any further action.
Although the study suggests only a small minority of voters were turned away in the May elections, the Electoral Commission warn that the proportion could increase significantly at the next general election, due to voters from marginalised groups being more likely to vote in national elections than in local elections. Hundreds of thousands of voters could end up being excluded, the report suggests.
The Commission also raised concerns about the restrictions making it disproportionately harder for disabled people to vote, and called for greater support to be provided to these voters.
Overall, the Commission said that new photographic ID requirements had proven to be a “barrier” to some groups of voters and called on the Government to expand the accepted forms of ID.
“The new voter ID requirement has posed a barrier to some voters and is likely to have a larger impact at higher turnout polls”, the Electoral Commission’s Director of Communications, Policy and Research, Craig Westwood, said.
“We have made recommendations to expand accessibility and support for voters, which should be introduced ahead of the next UK general election to ensure large numbers of people are not prevented from taking part.”
Campaign groups said the report showed that ministers should abandon the “damaging” requirements.
“Today’s Electoral Commission report gives us a clearer picture of who was turned away from voting due to voter ID rules at the local elections and shows that it was disabled and unemployed voters as well as people from an ethnic minority background and younger people who bore the brunt”, Dr Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy for the Electoral Reform Society, said.
“This paints a picture of a damaging and disproportionate policy that is affecting some voters more than others.”
The findings come after the former Brexit Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was part of the Government that first proposed the changes, admitted that they were a “clever scheme” to “gerrymander” the elections for the Conservative party.
Labour said the findings showed that the Government’s voter ID policy had been “discredited”.
“Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted that this shabby scheme was designed to rig the rules to lock voters out of democracy”, Florence Eshalomi MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Democracy, said.
“Ministers are required to hold a comprehensive review into this discredited policy and there must be no more dither and delay”.
The Government defended their record, insisting that the vast majority of people had been able to cast their vote.
“It’s very encouraging the vast majority of voters in the polling station – 99.75% – were able to cast their vote successfully at the local elections in England in May and adapted well to the rollout of voter identification in Great Britain”, Elections Minister Baroness Scott said.
“We are ensuring we fully understand how the policy has operated in practice, what has gone well and where there are any areas for improvement in the future.”