In light of recent data highlighting some concerns around the use of voter ID at elections, the Local Government Association has responded in reference to local elections.
Reports by the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Information Unit on the use of Voter ID at the local elections has found that hundreds of thousands of people could be excluded from voting in a UK general election because of voter ID laws.
In particular, the laws could have a disproportionate effect on poorer people, those with disabilities and people from minority ethnic backgrounds, the Electoral Commission warned. It said ministers should take urgent action to alleviate these impacts, including drawing up a wider list of documents that people can show to vote and allowing people without ID to have someone else vouch for their identity.
However, in its own statement about the report, the Department for Levelling Up, which has responsibility for elections, failed to mention any of the criticisms and said the rollout of voter ID had instead been “very encouraging”.
The commission’s report, based on a detailed study of the May local elections in England, the first mass use of voter ID in the UK outside Northern Ireland, said the disfranchising effect of the law was very likely to be proportionately greater in a general election. Among people who did not vote in May, 4% said this was because of voter ID. If this figure went up to 5%, it could mean about 800,000 people staying away from the polls at a general election.
The study additionally found a disproportionate impact on certain demographic groups. In May, there tended to be a higher proportion of people turned away for lacking ID in more deprived areas than in more prosperous places. For example, this figure rose to 8% for those who were unemployed and 9% for people with a significant disability. Similarly, young voters or those from minority ethnic backgrounds were five times as likely as the overall average to say they were unable to vote because they took the wrong ID to a polling station.
One of the report’s key recommendations is that the current list should be expanded in a way that would help excluded groups to vote. Another proposal is to allow a voter who does have ID to make an “attestation” at a polling station, vouching for the identity of someone who lacks the necessary documents. Any changes should happen “at the earliest opportunity” given the prospect of a general election this year or next year, the commission said.
Florence Eshalomi, the shadow democracy minister, called for a review of the policy. She said “This extremely concerning report brings into sharp focus the consequences of the Tories’ failed photo ID regulations. It’s wrong that the Conservatives have snatched the ability of legitimate voters to have a say in their services and society.”
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said the government would consider the findings of the report, adding: “We have said that we would learn any lessons from this initial rollout.”
The LGA’s response
Cllr Shaun Davies, Chair of the Local Government Association said: “Councils rose to the challenge of delivering new Voter ID requirements smoothly and this is a testament to the hard work of local election teams across the country”. He followed on explain how it is of concern to councils and their returning officers that a number of people were not aware of ID changes and left unable to vote, particularly those living with disabilities. “This is a fundamental part of the democratic process and so it is important that the Government takes on board recommendations from this report to broaden out the ID documents that can be accepted by polling staff”.
Davies continued by contending that “Council election teams are often small and so were reliant on help from areas without local elections to administer these changes last May. It is clear that as we approach future elections that this will not be sustainable, particularly in a general election. Councils will need support from government to recruit additional staff so they can manage increased demand. As well as this, there needs to be a centrally funded campaign to ensure as many voters as possible are aware of voter ID requirements ahead of a general election.”
Based on the research done by the electoral commission and the local government information unit, the implementation of Voter ID has had many impacts for democracy as certain demographics have been placed at a disadvantage. Voter ID also poses a challenge for local authorities and it is vital that they are supported to manage this system when the general election occurs.