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Government Refuses to Expand List of Accepted Voter IDs Despite Thousands Being Turned Away From Polls

More than 100,000 voters could be turned away at the next General Election according to one forecast

Photo: Electoral Reform Society

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The Government has rejected calls to let voters bring alternative forms of voter identification following May’s elections, despite at least 14,000 voters being turned away from polling stations and denied a vote in England. 

Campaigners – and the official elections watchdog – had called for the Government to expand the list of acceptable photo IDs following voters’ disenfranchisement in the local elections. 

But responding to the Electoral Commission today, minister Simon Hoare said: “The Government has been unable to identify any additions that would succeed in significantly increasing coverage, in the groups identified and more generally… Many of the forms of photographic identification considered during our review would also risk undermining the security element of the policy, as their application process is not sufficiently robust”.

The voter ID rules – which former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has admitted were a form of ‘gerrymandering’ to bolster the governing party – currently exclude several forms of ID used by young people, including Young Persons’ Railcards and some forms of student ID. 

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The minister said: “The key challenge is the diminishing return of including additional documents on the list. Research by the Government and the Electoral Commission has shown consistently that the vast majority of the electorate (96%) hold a form of photographic identification that is on the existing list. 

“As such it is likely that a similar percentage of the holders of any potential additional document will already also hold another document that is on the current list and therefore already accepted – as such the addition would not be able to significantly increase coverage.”

Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Housing, Communities & Local Government, Helen Morgan MP said the Government’s response was a “sick joke”.

“The Conservative party is running scared of democratic accountability. The Voter ID legislation brought in by this Conservative government is corrosive to our democracy.

“Voter ID at the local elections was a shambles. Now this Conservative government is doubling down. They are content to sit on their hands and witness another election plagued by chaos while people’s voices are being denied,” Morgan told Byline Times.

Tom Brake, director of campaign group Unlock Democracy, added: “There is still time to pull the plug on this unnecessary, expensive and discriminatory measure. Photo voter ID must be scrapped.”

The Government appears to be relying on councils’ free Voter Authority Certificates (VAC), which are offered to those who lack other forms of accepted identification. 

But an independent report for the Government by IFF found that awareness of the free ID is very low, with only 21% of voting-age adults and 26% of those without accepted photographic IDs being aware of it in May. The Government says improving awareness is now a priority. 

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The Government also rebuffed a call from the Electoral Commission to extend the deadline for applying for free voter certificates, which is cut off six working days before a poll. Ministers say they do not want to put extra burdens on electoral officers by having a deadline closer to polling day. 

The Conservatives are also firmly opposing the use of ‘attestation’ or ‘vouching’ at polling stations – where someone with ID can attest that someone who lacks it is who they say they are. Ministers claim ‘vouching’ could compromise the integrity of the system. 

Ministers have also rejected calls for the impact of voter ID to be recorded at each election. Two more General Elections will be monitored comprehensively for numbers turned away. After that, it will be up to individual returning officers, making it very difficult to get a national picture on the number of people denied a vote. 

All voters in the UK will have to bring photo ID at next year’s General Election. Scotland and Wales have not introduced voter ID for local elections, but must follow UK-wide rules for parliamentary ones. Northern Ireland already used voter ID following mass fraud allegations related to sectarian voting. 

Dawn Butler Hits Out at ‘Gerrymandering’

Labour MP Dawn Butler told Byline Times the ID policy was “yet more gerrymandering from the Tories.”

“Data shows thousands were turned away in May, and now they are refusing measures to prevent it happening again. We should be trying to extend the franchise, not decrease it – which is what the Tories are doing by refusing to add reasonable extra forms of voter ID. I believe it is discriminatory and serves only to disenfranchise people,” she added.

“Never forget when the mask slipped and Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted voter ID laws were introduced to gerrymander elections for the Tories.

“The message is clear: the Conservative Party does not want you to use your right to vote,” Butler said.

New Research on ID Rollout

Official analysis by IFF Research for the Government has also been published, analysing the impact of the introduction of photographic voter ID.

The report notes some “confusion” among polling station staff regarding why certain types of photographic IDs were accepted and others were not. It also finds that allegations of personation (impersonation fraud) in the May 2023 elections were very low – consistent with previous elections. There were also concerns that some local election offices may not be able to handle a surge in applications for free Voter Authority Certificates in a General Election.

Commenting on the findings, Tom Brake said: “This report contains a statement of the ‘bleeding obvious’ – those without accepted photographic identification were much more likely to say that the voter identification requirement made them less likely to vote.

“What the report lacks is any real thought about what to do about it. With 14,000 turned away in May, we are on track to see more than 100,000 people turned away from the polling stations at the next General Election.”

The IFF Research shows that the people most likely to have heard nothing at all about the ID requirements were people who rarely or never vote at local elections (18%), ethnic minorities (12%) and younger adults (11% of those aged 18-34).

Labour refused to say whether it would repeal the ID requirements if in government, when asked by Byline Times earlier this year. The Lib Dems back repeal of the ID rules. The full list of acceptable IDs is published here.

Byline Times has extensively covered the voter ID rollout and will be monitoring further developments.

ShoutOut UK and the Greater London Authority have launched a new WhatsApp chat bot to give advice on getting ID and registering to vote. Add +44 7908 820136 to use it.

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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