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REVEALED: Hundreds disenfranchised in voter ID pilots

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Almost 700 people were turned away from polling stations operating voter ID pilots and did not return, LGC research has found.

While the number of voters disenfranchised at the recent local elections amounts to fewer than 1% of the electorate in the seven of the ten pilots that provided data, analysis suggests an increase in incidents compared with the five pilots that took place last year. 

On average 102 voters failed to vote in each pilot this year, compared to 70 last year.

In total 819 individuals were turned away for not having the correct ID and did not return to vote.

The Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office will not publish their evaluations of the pilots until the summer but a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office told LGC the government was “committed to rolling voter ID out on a national scale ahead of the next scheduled General Election in 2022”.

The councils that ran voter ID pilots in the 2019 local elections    
Councils Numbers who were turned away and didn’t vote percentage turned away voter turnout (%) type of voter id scheme
Derby City Council 256 0.58 35.9 photo id or two forms of non photo ID
Broxtowe BC 69 0.2 40 photo id or two forms of non photo ID
Braintree DC 73  0.21 31 photo id or two forms of non photo ID
Craven 48 0.47 37 photo id or two forms of non photo ID
North Kesteven DC 50-60 0.2-0.24 31 photo id or two forms of non photo ID
Mid Sussex DC 78 0.26 38.5 poll card or photo ID
Pendle BC 119 not provided 38 only photo ID
Watford BC* 42 not provided  33.44 poll card or photo ID
Woking BC 22  0.12 36.33 only photo ID
NW Leicestershire DC figures not yet available     poll card or photo ID
*initial figures         

Broxtowe BC, Derby City Council, and Craven, North Kesteven and Braintree DCs held pilots in which voters had to present either one piece of photo ID or two pieces of non-photo ID.

In Watford BC and Mid-Sussex and North West Leicestershire DCs, voters had to bring along their poll card or photo ID, and in Pendle and Woking BCs, only photo ID was accepted.

The models trialled were based on recommendations made by Sir Eric Pickles in his independent review into electoral fraud.

Ribble Valley BC and East Staffordshire BC also signed up to the scheme, but later dropped out amid concerns over resources and voters being excluded.

The largest number of people turned away and not returning was in Derby with 258. Derby required voters to bring photo ID or two forms of non photo ID.

While the numbers who did not vote are small, they were potentially significant in cases where the election results came down to a handful of votes. In Mid Sussex, where 78 people didn’t vote after being turned away for not having a poll card or photo ID with them, there were three instances in which a candidate won by less than 25 votes.

There were also some high profile controversies. In Pendle, an 87 year-old women who had voted in every election in her adult life was turned away for not having ID, after taking a taxi to the polling station. The woman told the Mirror she brought a photograph of herself, rather than a photo ID, after she misunderstood the instructions.

And a month prior to the election, a 64 year-old man from Essex, Neil Coughlan, took the government to the High Court in a failed attempt to stop the pilots from going ahead, claiming it was not valid under the Representation of the People Act 2000.

However, returning officers from the participating councils were overwhelmingly positive about how the pilot went in their areas.

In both Craven and Braintree, returning officers said the “vast majority” of residents had brought ID with them following a communications campaign in which every household was written to about the voter ID pilot.

Craven’s returning officer Paul Shevlin said: “It’s a good sign that the turnout was very similar to the last comparable elections in 2016, and actually increased in some wards, showing that people were not deterred from voting.

“It’s unfortunate if anybody who wanted to vote was unable to do so, but we’re pleased that these numbers were very small.”

Carole Mills, Derby’s returning officer, said she was pleased to see that the overall turnout was very similar to previous comparable elections, “indicating that citizens were not deterred from voting”. And a spokesperson for North Kesteven said the initial response was that “awareness was high, the process ran smoothly, the majority of voters who chose to vote responded positively and the campaign was a great success”.

The government estimates that rolling out voter ID nationally could cost up to £20m per general election while critics claim it is unnecessary as cases of voter fraud are so low.

There were eight cases of alleged in personation voter fraud at a polling station last year according to the Electoral Commission, which was down from 28 in 2017. Of these eight, no further action was taken in seven instances and one was locally resolved.

Cat Smith MP (Lab), shadow minister for voter engagement, told LGC that in this year’s pilots, “legitimate and honest voters have been denied their right to vote because of these undemocratic and unpopular pilot schemes…it’s clear that Voter ID has no place in our democracy and should be abandoned immediately”.

The Electoral Reform Society said the voter ID policy presented ”an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality” and warned possession of photo ID was not universal. 

Chief exective Darren Hughes said: “These initial figures from the LGC pose a stark warning about the government’s undemocratic push for mandatory voter ID. It is clear that, once again, many people have been denied their say – indeed, many more than there were allegations of personation fraud in the whole of the UK last year… Trust in our democratic system is vital – which is why ministerial scaremongering about fraud is especially dangerous.”

*This story was updated at 2.15pm to include a comment from the Electoral Reform Society.

Councils to provide voter ID cards ‘free of charge’

Councils will be tasked with providing free ID cards to voters who do not have passports or driving licenses when voter ID is rolled out nationally, a minister has said.

In a statement last month Cabinet Officer minister Chloe Smith said that “crucially” councils will provide “alternative methods of ID free of charge” to electors who do not have a specified form of ID, “which ensures that everybody who is registered to vote has the opportunity to vote”.

Such a scheme is already being used in Northern Ireland, where the Cabinet Office claims the voter ID requirement has not reduced turnout.

In this year’s trials, both Braintree and Craven DCs offered to provide “certificates of identification” for those without the right ID, but Craven said it had received no applications for these and Braintree declined to comment.

But Jessica Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, says that providing these free ID cards would “add on a lot of extra burden on councils at a time when there is already a lot to be done in organising elections”.

“It also presents extra barriers to voting because people would have to prove who they are to get that free ID,” she added. “There is no evidence of the need for this because rates of electoral fraud are so low.”

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