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Disabled Trans Woman Who Says She’s Been ‘Denied Vote’ Due to Photo ID Rules Launches Legal Challenge

The Government is refusing to expand the list of approved forms of voter ID despite warnings of large numbers of voters set to be turned away at the general election

Photo: Edward George / Alamy

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A woman who says she has been blocked from voting due to the Government’s new voter ID rules is launching a legal challenge against the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove over the policy.

Legal campaign group Good Law Project (GLP) says that Alice’s disabilities will prevent her from getting photo ID this year, due to the additional burdens it places on vulnerable voters. Alice, whose identity is being protected, is arguing that the Government should extend the forms of permitted ID before “potentially millions” are turned away at the General Election this year. 

Alice suffers from anxiety and depression to such an extent that she is on the highest level of Universal Credit and is unable to work, the legal letter notes. She has never had a passport, and says her lack of photographic ID is directly linked to her disabilities and her status as a trans woman. 

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Research by academics at the Universities of York and Birmingham found that trans people expressed “significant anxiety” about voter ID requirements, particularly due to fears around their ID being challenged if voting in person — for example if it references a former gender identity. A quarter of respondents said they were less likely to vote in a future general election as a result.

The letter to the Government notes that Alice was “disappointed” that Secretary of State Michael Gove had ruled out expanding the list of acceptable forms of ID despite Electoral Commission warnings, and had ruled out monitoring the impact of Voter ID past the end of the decade. 

A report from the Electoral Commission following last May’s local elections found “people with lower incomes, with disabilities and from minority ethnic backgrounds “faced greater problems”’ with the requirements.

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An estimated 14,000 people were turned away. However, the true figure is likely to be much higher, since many people were reminded of the ID requirement by “greeters” outside the polling station and then turned away before they were formally recorded as lacking ID. 

The Commission said voter ID was likely to have a much “larger impact” at the general election and recommended the Government make changes at the “earliest opportunity”. 

According to the Electoral Commission, three per cent of non-voters said they did not vote because they did not have the requisite ID last May. But the figure was substantially higher for disabled voters who reported  being ‘limited a lot’ by their disability, at nearly one in ten (9%). The Government’s own figures via Ipsos have the figures at four per cent and seven per cent respectively. 

Non-profit group Democracy Volunteers deployed more than 150 observers across 118 of the 230 councils holding elections in England on 4 May last year, finding that 1.2% of those attending polling stations were turned away because they lacked the relevant ID. Again this would equate to tens of thousands in a General Election. They found that the majority were ‘non-white passing’. 

Moreover, polling for Byline Times found that around ten million eligible voters do not know that they will need photo ID in order to vote in the upcoming general election.

The poll, conducted last month by pollsters We Think, found that 22% of UK voters are still not aware that they will need to carry a form of photographic ID to vote.

A form of free ID is available from councils, the Voter Authority Certificate. However, it is an A4 piece of paper and local authorities are understood to vary in their speed authorising and distributing them. 

The Government has so far refused to adopt the recommended changes in the Commission’s report. And there is nothing in the public domain to show that the Secretary of State had due regard to his legal obligations to ensure the relevant equality impacts have been considered as part of his decisions.

The Chair of the Electoral Commission John Pullinger recently told the Financial Times that Ministers had “opened themselves” up to the charge that Voter ID is designed to benefit the Conservatives. He also warned that the “very, very tight” rules that will force voters to carry ID at this year’s General Election risked disenfranchising certain groups.

The new voter ID rules were rolled out with the stated rationale of tackling voter fraud, despite just one conviction of in-person voter fraud in 2019. A cross-party group of MPs called the policy a “poisoned cure” that “disenfranchises more electors than it protects”. 

Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project said: “For no good reason and at enormous public expense, Ministers are depriving people of their democratic right to vote. Voter ID has been proven to be more likely to exclude the young, poor and ethnic minorities — it looks like a pretty blatant attempt at voter suppression by the Conservative Party.

“This challenge is not straightforward but the restriction on the right to vote is too important to ignore.”

Ipsos Mori research for the Government last September found that two per cent of voting-age adults do not have an accepted form of ID, but the figure is five times higher for those with a disability preventing them from voting on their own in person. 

Campaigners allege that ministers breached the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010, as well as the Human Rights Act. 

The Government is obliged to produce reports into Voter ID for the next two general elections, but no monitoring is required after this point. 

GLP took a leading role in overturning Boris Johnson’s unlawful prorogation of parliament and helped expose cronyism in the Government’s £50bn Covid procurement. They have requested a reply from Michael Gove’s department by next Monday. 

A legal challenge against Voter ID pilots in local elections in 2020 failed after a judge ruled there would be proper safeguards in place in the event of its full rollout.

The Department for Levelling Up has been contacted for comment.

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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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