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Turnout up in polling card pilot areas and down for ID cards

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Returning officers trialling voter ID registration have told LGC it did not put people off voting - with turnout up on 2014’s elections in at least two of the five pilot areas.

This came after the Electoral Reform Society claimed almost 4,000 people were denied a ballot paper across the five pilot areas (1.67% of those who tried to vote), based on a report by the observer group Democracy Volunteers. However, the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA), the body behind the pilot, said that figure seemed “incredibly high” and insisted the pilots had gone “smoothly” and without any major issues.

Returning officers at Swindon and Watford BCs both said they had witnessed an increase in voter turnout. Voters in both boroughs were required to bring their polling cards, but not a form of identification as was required in Bromley LBC, Gosport and Woking BCs.

Stephen Taylor, returning officer at Swindon BC, said: “The trial didn’t seem to put people off. Most people bring their polling card anyway.”

Mr Taylor, who is also Swindon’s director of law and democratic services, said the council had recorded a turnout of 40%, which was up on the 33% recorded at 2016 elections. It was also up on the 2014 figure. Of the 62,166 people who turned up, only 60 were asked to return with their required ballot cards, of which 35 did return and 25 did not – 0.04% of those who voted.

When asked to comment on the Electoral Reform Society’s estimate that 3,981 voters had been turned away as a result of the voter ID pilot scheme, Mr Taylor said he did not “recognise the number from Swindon’s experience”.

The AEA’s chief executive Peter Stanyon said he would be “amazed” if the estimate turned out to be accurate. “They do seem incredibly high. As an organisation we have received no feedback that would support that,” he said.

Manny Lewis, managing director and returning officer at Watford BC, said the trial was “very interesting” because turnout had increased from the 37% in 2014 to 39.27% this year.

“We launched a massive voter ID campaign which was good advertising for the election,” Mr Lewis said.

Mr Lewis said 192 voters were initially unable to vote as they had not brought their polling card to vote last Thursday. Of that number, 128 later returned with their polling card and successfully voted, while 64 people did not return to vote. The latter number amounts to 0.2% of the total 27,765 people who voted in Watford.

By contrast, turnout dropped marginally in all three of areas where a piece of ID was required to vote.

Voting areaRequired to produce2014 turnout2018 turnout

Bromley

Piece of ID

41%

40%

Gosport

Piece of ID

33.5%

33%

Woking

Piece of ID

38.7%

37.8%

Swindon

Polling card

33%

40%

Watford

Polling card

37%

39.3%

A spokesperson for Gosport BC said the ”overwhelming majority of voters brought the right ID to the polls,” adding that 44 people could not vote as a result of not bringing the right ID. The total number of voters in Gosport was 20,612.

Michael Lawther, Gosport’s returning officer, said: “We ran a very extensive publicity campaign to tell people they needed to bring ID, and what types of ID were acceptable. I would like to thank voters for their co-operation and for helping us with this exercise.”

Woking BC’s returning officer Ray Morgan said: “We are very pleased with how the Voter ID pilot has been received by the Woking electorate. We will collate all data gained from the day and submit it in a full evaluation to the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission in two weeks’ time. We will then brief the Council and publish our analysis.”

Both officers at Swindon and Watford councils told LGC of the benefits of receiving real-time information from the polling booths. After each individual polling card was scanned in to the system, the information was passed back to central headquarters, allowing officers to see how many people were at each centre at any given moment. Watford used Wi-Fi connectivity to relay the information from each of the polling stations, while Swindon used 3g and 4g connections.

Mr Lewis said: “One problem we found was that every polling station had to have Wi-Fi, which raised concerns over reliability and increased cost to the authority.”

All five councils are working with the Cabinet Office to advise on whether to roll out the trial out further, with a response and recommendation expected in the summer.

Dave Smith, spokesman for elections and democratic renewal at the Society for Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said he had “consistently expressed concern that ID checks risk making it difficult for electors to exercise their right to vote in a context where turnout at elections is falling” and added he will be “following up with the Cabinet Office on the findings and evaluation of the pilots to ensure that fairness and accessibility remain at the heart of our democratic system.”

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Turnout varies in elections for all sorts of reasons. The real figure that needs to be measured is "how many people did not even bother going to a polling station because they could not produce one of the ID items." Looking at Woking BC's list of items, my partner would not be able to produce any of these items so would be disenfranchised unless she went through the hoops of applying for an elector card before the election. It all seems designed to disenfranchise people. I would imagine this dwarves any real or imagined voter fraud.

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