In May this year, voters in some parts of England took part in the first local election in Great Britain where they were required to present mandatory photo ID. We now know, just as we had warned, more than 14,000 people were recorded as losing their right to vote in May because they did not have the correct photo ID. These figures don't even include the people who realised they didn't have ID and turned around before they went into the polling station or just stayed at home.
With a General Election looming Best for Britain is extremely concerned about the effect these new rules could have. May's election involved only a portion of local authorities in England, while next year's General Election will take place across the whole UK and with millions more registered voters. Returning Officers and electoral administrators have repeatedly raised their concerns about the potential for chaos on election day and the Electoral Commission has put their concerns on record.
Best for Britain supporters took their feedback to the UK Government back in May by writing to the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing which oversees elections. More than 3,000 people wrote to the Department to tell them about their own experience, the experiences of family and friends and their concerns about future elections in their area. The Elections Policy Minister, Baroness Scott of Bybrook, wrote to Best for Britain's supporters in July to set out the Government's response. Though the letter sets out the Government position, it doesn't address any of our primary concerns that show these reforms have done more harm than good. The Minister does, though, promise us a report by November that outlines what needs to change to make voter ID work better and crucially committed to looking at changing the list of IDs that will be accepted at future elections.
Best for Britain has replied to the Minister to respond to the claims they raised and to urge the Government to take swift action to make sure everyone who wants to vote in next year's General Election is able to do so.
What is Best for Britain calling for?
Best for Britain has urged the UK Government to:
Act swiftly to introduce and publish the secondary legislation required to expand the list of accepted forms of ID, as soon as its evaluation is complete in November 2023.
Expand the list of identity documents that will be accepted as proof of ID at polling stations to include a wider range of documents, based on the amendment proposed to the Elections Bill by Lord Willetts, Lord Woolley of Woodford, Baroness Lister of Burtersett and the Lord Bishop of Coventry. That would add the following forms of ID to the current list:
- a driving licence;
- a birth certificate;
- a marriage or civil partnership certificate;
- an adoption certificate;
- the record of a decision on bail made in respect of the voter in accordance with section 5(1) of the Bail Act 1976;
- a bank or building society cheque book;
- a mortgage statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
- a bank or building society statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
- a credit card statement dated within 3 months of the date of the poll;
- a council tax demand letter or statement dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;
- a P45 or P60 form dated within 12 months of the date of the poll;
- a standard acknowledgement letter (SAL) issued by the Home Office for asylum seekers;
- a trade union membership card;
- a library card;
- a pre-payment meter card;
- a National Insurance card;
- a workplace ID card;
- a student ID card;
- an 18+ student Oyster photocard;
- a National Rail Railcard;
- a Young Scot National Entitlement Card.
What are Best for Britain's concerns?
The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and the government should prioritise accessibility in the way our elections are run. It should be easy and straightforward for anyone who is eligible to cast their vote, with as few barriers and hurdles in their way as possible.
Voter ID is a solution to a problem that does not exist
Since 2014 there have been three General Elections, elections to the devolved Parliaments in Scotland and Wales and local elections at all levels - tens of millions of votes have been cast and counted. In all that time there have been just 132 allegations of vote stealing ('personation') and of those only three resulted in convictions and eleven resulted in police cautions. There is not a need for extra security measures for in-person voting.
Voter ID disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable
In 2022 the Electoral Commission found people who did not have photo ID were more likely to be from disadvantaged groups, such as those who are renting from their local authority (17% of whom did not have the correct ID), those renting from a housing association (10%), those who are unemployed (14%), those from lower social grade (8% of those who are DE social grade), and those with lower levels of education (7%). Accredited election observer, Democracy Volunteers, recorded that more than half of those who were turned away at the May 2023 election were 'non-white passing'.
Estimates for the number of people in Britain eligible to vote without a pre-existing form of ID accepted for voting range from 925,000 to 3.5 million and those who have no fixed address, are living in poverty, or who may find it difficult to access identity documents (for example, people experiencing domestic abuse) may find it harder to cross this barrier to apply for and receive accepted ID and be able to exercise their vote.
Unfairness in the Government's implementation
The list of identity documents that the UK Government chose limited the types of ID that can be accepted, and seemed to favour some demographics over others with various bus and train travelcards for older people on the list of allowed ID but the equivalent cards for younger people disallowed. The full list of accepted ID is here.
Electoral administration under strain with rushed implementation of new rules
The Elections Act contained several significant changes to how elections are run, not just voter ID. For next year's General Election, Returning Officers and electoral administrators will also have to prepare for the first election using new constituency boundaries, the change in rules to allow UK citizens who have lived abroad for longer than 15 years to register and vote, new rules about how polling stations should be set up and the provision of tools and processes to make voting more accessible for those with disabilities and changes to the rules around postal and proxy votes. It will also be a truly snap election, now that the Government has done away with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, so Returning Officers will get just 25 days notice of the date of the election. The Association of Electoral Administrators has raised serious concerns about the ability of the system to cope with a high-turnout snap General Election in the midst of so much change.
Last year the UK Government didn't complete the necessary legislation to set the list of allowed identity documents until December 2022, just four months before the May Local Elections and up against the deadline when Returning Officers would usually have already ordered polling cards and other documents from printers. The Government is intending to complete its evaluation of the implementation of voter ID in November 2023 - after several Parliamentary by-elections will have already taken place using the new rules - and there could be a snap election early next year. If the Government really does intend to expand the list of accepted ID they need to do so swiftly.