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‘I Had to Argue for My Right to Vote’: Voters Report Being Denied a Say in Local Elections Due to Strict Photo ID Law

Voters say they struggled to prove their identities as polling stations enforced England’s draconian photo ID rules

Photo: Banseka Kayembe had to argue her case as staff were initially reluctant to give her a vote

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This Thursday’s local elections in England saw millions of people face the new photo ID requirements for the first time.

With even Boris Johnson turned away and one Conservative MP relying on an emergency proxy vote due to lacking the correct ID, Byline Times has heard from dozens of ordinary voters who also had major problems securing their right to vote on the day. 

Several reported incidents highlighted confusion, frustration, and alleged voter suppression due to the need for strict – and varyingly enforced – forms of identification. 

This included at least one case an army veteran being turned away, despite carrying an official MOD issued veterans card.

Here are some of the other accounts from individuals who experienced these issues firsthand, drawing on this outlet’s survey of voters. Or in some cases, rejected voters.

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Matt Dix, from Leeds, says he was turned away because a volunteer did not recognize him from his ID photo due to his current beard, again leaving him unable to vote.

Dix, 36, told Byline Times: “I think it’s an awful policy but hadn’t exactly expected to be the victim of it myself. I’m sure cases like mine are few and far between, but they’re also relying on the subjective opinion of a volunteer who does this one day a year, not as part of their day-to-day role…

“There is an emergency proxy option but only if your ID is lost or damaged – mine was not. So there was no possible way of voting without an alternative photo ID (which I don’t have) after that initial refusal…No support was given, referral to a helpline, someone to contact etc. Just a no.”

‘Turned Away Over My Beard’. Photo: Matt Dix

In Westminster, where the ID law was drafted, Luciana Custodio faced delays while staff at her polling station figured out the procedure for accepting her postal vote in person. The process included searching for the correct forms and confirming the signing requirements, which she says took over 20 minutes.

And Banseka Kayembe, Director and Founder of the site Naked Politics told Byline Times her experience suggested some marginalised groups could be particularly hard hit by the ID rules.

“I brought my provisional license and the staff at the polling station at first said it wasn’t a valid form of ID because it has a previous address and not my current local one. I had to argue my case somewhat with them: stating that my ID should just prove I am who I say I am, rather than that I live at a particular address.

“They looked up the rules and allowed me to vote in the end. They were not unpleasant by any means, but it struck me that being questioned like that, and perhaps the difficulty for polling staff even being able to understand and implement the rules could well be a barrier for others, especially those most marginalised/less knowledgeable about the political system.”

Others had issues with their photo being questioned. Charlotte Eleanor Earney in Waltham Forest had trouble when a staff member doubted her resemblance to her ID – though she eventually received her ballot papers after some scrutiny.

Charlotte Earney, 30, was challenged over the likeness on her photo ID

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Graeme Clement in Cornwall presented multiple forms of ID only to find that each was initially rejected. His driving licence finally allowed him to vote, though he’s concerned about how the process is being enforced. Also trying to vote in Cornwall was Paul Clark, who realised he’d forgotten his photo ID when he arrived at the polling station. When he presented a local council-issued pass, it wasn’t accepted, meaning he was unable to vote. 

Kieran Walsh in Wyre (Lancashire) was initially rejected a vote when he presented his Irish passport card, which staff mistakenly believed was invalid. After clerks consulted the Electoral Commission’s website and proved its validity, he was allowed to vote. “If I hadn’t been assertive I would have left the polling station having been denied my vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mark Thurstain in Bath and North East Somerset faced long queues to vote, while the polling clerk struggled with technology and incorrectly stated he was not on the electoral roll, despite his wife being listed at the same address.

Many more respondents to Byline Times’ VoteWatch survey saw others turned away or reported witnessing problems at the ballot box over the new rules. 

Ex-Army Officer Who Served in Afghanistan ‘Blocked from Ballot Box’ After Veteran ID Rejected

One ex-Army MP branded the situation “ludicrous” while even Conservatives seemed to despair


More Polling Station Disruption

Kate Edmonds, in East Sussex witnessed an elderly woman at the polling station who had forgotten her ID and was subsequently turned away. “[She] said she felt stupid for forgetting,” Edmonds said.

At his polling station in Monmouthshire, Keith Mortimer (no relation) asked staff about the number of people turned away due to lack of ID and was told that four people had been denied by 11:30am. He asked if they were genuine voters, to which the officer said yes.

Gabrielle Jackson, from Teignbridge, Devon, observed that four people ahead of her in the queue had forgotten or were unaware of the need for ID. “The message regarding photo ID is not getting through,” she told Byline Times.

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Natasha Grange, from Exeter City Council, claims she encountered a woman who voted despite not having received a polling card. “She was allowed to vote anyway,” Grange says. 

And Paul Jerome, from Havant, reported that his wife was turned away when she showed the digital version of her senior citizen railcard as identification. David Willis’ wife in Hart was also turned away. She told the polling officer that this was “voter suppression” and they agreed, Jerome said. 

In Leeds, Matt Rogers says he witnessed two of the four people voting alongside him being turned away due to a lack of identification.

And Anne Underhill, a previous poll clerk from Cheltenham says she was instructed to send people without ID home before they entered the polling station. After raising concerns with the polling station inspector, the presiding officers apparently were told to stop doing this.

For many of these voters, the incidents sparked distress and concern over how the new voter ID laws were being enforced at various polling stations – with would-be voters facing delays and, in some cases, disenfranchisement altogether.

Now that several senior Conservatives have faced similar issues, they’ll be hoping that ministers sit up and take note. 


Spotted something strange or face issues voting in the local elections? Fill in our VoteWatch survey. If you have a political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

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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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