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Mon, 28 September 2020

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Ministers vow to push on with voter ID trials as watchdog finds 'very small' number put off voting

Ministers vow to push on with voter ID trials as watchdog finds 'very small' number put off voting
3 min read

A "very small" number of people were put off voting at the local elections by the Government’s controversial voter ID trials, the UK’s electoral watchdog has found.


A new report by the independent Electoral Commission concludes that the schemes tried out in Bromley, Watford, Gosport, Woking and Swindon had a limited impact on voter turnout and helped calm fears about voter fraud.

The Government trialled the plans at May’s elections, arguing that the move would help clamp down on people casting their ballots fraudulently.

But Labour warned that the "discriminatory" move could stop vulnerable people who lack the right documents from voting, and called on the Government to shelve the plans.

However, the Electoral Commission’s study of the limited trials finds that they "worked well" with just 0.6% of those who tried to vote at polling stations initially turning up without ID.

Overall, just 0.2% of voters failed to return with the right paperwork after being prompted by officials, the report says.

It adds: "Nearly everyone in the five pilot scheme areas who went to vote in their polling station was able to show identification without difficulty.

"The number of people who did not vote because they couldn’t show identification was very small."

The Commission meanwhile said people in the pilot areas were "significantly less likely to think that electoral fraud took place than people in other areas with elections" during the May vote.

The watchdog's report also gives ministers the green light to expand the trials next year, but says more work is needed to make sure young people and those who do not always vote in elections are able to get their hands on the right ID.

Different forms of ID were tried out during the pilots, with some voters asked to bring a photo ID like a passport, driving license or railcard, while others were able to bring their poll card.

The Commission's research director Craig Westwood said: "The next step should be to test the requirement for voter identification in areas with different demographics.

"It will be important to develop the evidence base about the impact of voter identification on different groups of people. No eligible elector should be prevented from voting because of voter identification requirements."

Minister Chloe Smith seized on the findings of a separate government study - also published today - as proof that that the plans were "reasonable and proportionate".

"Our evaluation shows that the overwhelming majority of electors who turned up to vote did so with the right documents and had confidence in knowing how to cast their vote," she said.

The Cabinet Office said it would bring in a fresh round of ID checks at the next local elections.

But Labour said the Government had presided over a "shambolic set of pilots", and questioned the scope of the data collected by the watchdog.

Shadow Voter Engagement Minister Cat Smith said: "We know that voter ID has a disproportionate impact on older, poorer or ethnically diverse communities, yet none of the pilots’ authorities have significant populations with these demographics.

"It is impossible to determine the true impact of voter ID as figures collected in polling stations did not capture voters who were put off from entering polling stations.

"Instead of piloting this flawed policy for the second time, the Government should abandon their undemocratic proposals as a matter of urgency."

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