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Fears of Mass Exclusion of Young Voters as Poll Reveals Numbers of 18-24 Year Olds Who Don’t Know About New Photo ID Rules

Young people, those with few qualifications, and voters in Scotland are least aware of new voter ID rules

A People’s Vote march in London before the 2019 General Election. Photo: Andis Atvars / Alamy Live News

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Almost one in three 18-24 year olds are not aware they will need to bring photo ID in order to vote in this July’s General Election, according to polling for Byline Times

Young people and those in Scotland – which has not had elections requiring ID until now – are particularly unaware of the new requirement to present photographic ID at polling stations. 

With the General Election barely 30 days away, campaigners fear the lack of awareness could potentially disenfranchise thousands.

Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy said: “This polling for Byline Times confirms our worst suspicions. More than a year after photo voter ID was introduced, at least 1 out of 10 voters don’t know they need to take photo voter ID with them to the polling station… The Government and the Electoral Commission must set out immediately how they are going to massively raise the awareness of the need for photo voter ID and avoid an electoral catastrophe in 5 weeks time.”

The research, conducted by independent pollsters WeThink for Byline Times, shows only 70% of 18-24 year-olds and 77% of 25-34 year-olds know they need to bring photographic ID to vote this July.

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This leaves 30% of the youngest voters and 23% of those in their mid-20s and early 30s at risk of being turned away at the polls.

That compares to 97% of over-75s who say they are aware of the rules.

The situation is also dire in Scotland, where one in four are not aware of the ID requirements, compared to 13% Britain-wide. Those unaware of the rules are more likely to risk being turned away due to a lack of ID. 

Wales leads the awareness chart, with 94% of respondents knowing about the voter ID rules, followed by the South East of England at 92%.

But besides Scotland, London also shows a significant awareness gap, with around one in five (19%) adults unaware of the need for ID.

Split by generation, Gen X voters (ages 43-59) boast a high awareness rate of 92%, while awareness among Millennials (ages 28-42) lags behind at 80%.

The poll also reveals that with barely a month to go, ttose with no formal qualifications and only GCSE/O-Level equivalents show the lowest awareness, at 84% and 85% respectively. Meanwhile voters with postgraduate degrees (92%) and apprenticeships (91%) are most aware of the new rules. 

Unlock Democracy director Tom Brake has expressed serious concerns over the potential impact of the findings.

In a letter to the Electoral Commission seen by this outlet, Brake highlighted the low uptake of Voter Authority Certificates, which are supposed to ensure that those without standard photo ID can still vote. 

Byline Times needs your help to investigate disinformation and electoral exclusion as we head towards the 2024 General Election.

We’re asking for your help to keep track of dodgy campaigning this election, so if you spot anything that bears investigation, please email us at votewatch24@bylinetimes.com.

He pointed out that only 163,419 applications have been made for these certificates, covering just over 8% of the estimated two million people without valid ID.

Brake emphasises the need for urgent action to increase awareness and uptake of these certificates, particularly in Scotland where the application rate is significantly lower than in England. 

“The data suggests that if anything, things are getting worse,” Brake warned, calling on the Electoral Commission to step up efforts to inform voters and improve training for polling clerks.

Using official Electoral Commission data on numbers turned away and not returning in last year’s local elections, an approximate number who could be denied a vote this July is around 55,000 people – those turned away without ID and not returning. 

But based on the 2.1% turnaway rate observed in this May’s local elections by the non-profit Democracy Volunteers, Brake estimates that at least 100,000 voters could be turned away at the polls due to lack of proper ID. Lower awareness among those in Scotland could further increase that figure (Scotland did not have local elections this May).  

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Letter from Unlock Democracy to Electoral Commission

Unlock Democracy director Tom Brake’s Letter to the Electoral Commission CEO

Dear Mr. Rangarajan, I am writing to express concern about the impact of Voter ID laws and the low take up of the Voter Authority Certificate on the forthcoming General Election.

We would greatly appreciate if you could answer the following questions:  

When the Elections Bill was going through Parliament, much was made of Voter Authority Certificates as the backstop to ensure the estimated 2 million people without a proper ID can still vote. That scheme has been running for 18 months and the total number of applications is 163,419. 

Assuming that all the applicants are people who don’t have a valid photo ID (evidence suggests otherwise!), that would mean that just over 8% of people who needed to acquire an ID, have now got one. Or putting that another way, more than 9 in 10 people who need one, don’t have one. 

In the very limited time before election day, what is the Electoral Commission doing to resolve this issue? How much is the EC spending on raising awareness of Voter ID during the election campaign? What is the EC asking government and local authorities to do to try to significantly boost the uptake of VACs?

This is Scotland’s first nationwide Voter ID election. As I write this, there have been only 4,380 VAC applications since January 2023. That’s barely a quarter of the rate of application that we’ve seen in England. In the first week of the General Election campaign, there were only 681 applications.

What extra measures is the Commission taking to promote Voter ID and Voter Authority Certificates in Scotland? 

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We know that the evidence from the 2023 and 2024 local elections shows that Voter ID is stopping thousands of eligible voters from casting their ballot. In September, the Electoral Commission’s report on the 2023 local elections, said this about voter ID –

Changes must be made at the earliest opportunity to improve accessibility and support people who do not have accepted ID, particularly given there are important elections that are due to be held during the next 18 months. This should include both changes in the law and work to increase awareness of the voter ID requirement and the availability of the free Voter Authority Certificate, as recommended in our interim analysis.

As far as we are aware, no changes have been made. The data, particularly around Voter Authority Certificates suggest that if anything, things are getting worse.

What will the Commission do about the problems associated with Voter ID in the short time between now and polling day to raise awareness of the need to take Voter ID to the polling station, encourage local authorities to improve training for polling clerks (so holders of valid ID aren’t turned away) and what support is the Commission asking from the Government to tackle this issue?

Finally, we would like to ask what level of ‘turnaways’ on General Election day will be considered a success for Voter ID? 

If around 100,000 people are turned away from polling stations on the 4th July, will the EC concede at that point that Voter ID, far from improving the integrity of our elections, has actually caused significant harm and should be scrapped?

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely

Tom Brake – Director of Unlock Democracy

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Accepted forms of photo ID

According to the Electoral Commission, voters can use any of the following accepted forms of photo ID when voting at a polling station. You will only need to show one form of photo ID. It needs to be the original version and not a photocopy.

If you or someone you know does not have any of these, they will need to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate.

There has been considerable criticism of the ID rules allowing several types of ID specifically for older-people, and practically none aimed at younger people.

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Local travel

Proof of age

Other government issued documents

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Byline Times is relaunching our VoteWatch project to monitor disinformation, dodgy campaigning, and dark money during the 2024 General Election. Get in touch if you have a tip off or any insights: votewatch24@bylinetimes.com

If you have another political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.


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