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Hundreds Turned Away From Voting With New ID Rules

A polling station in Manchester during this month's local elections (Alamy)

4 min read

Hundreds of people in a number of councils were turned away from voting at the recent local elections due to not having appropriate documents to meet new voter ID rules, data has shown.

While many were recorded as having returned with appropriate ID and eventually casting their vote, a significant number of people did not. 

Councils have begun releasing voter ID data after the rules were introduced for the first time ahead of local elections that mean people are now required to show valid ID at the polling station in order to be issued a ballot. Not all councils have shared data on voter ID, but figures from several who have suggest that in certain areas the new rules did pose an obstacle to voting. 

Bradford Council said that 1,261 voters were initially refused a ballot paper due to not having appropriate ID. While 763 of these people returned and were issued with a ballot, 498 did not return to vote. 

In Walsall, 767 people were not issued with a ballot paper as a result of not having correct ID. A total of 473 were not issued with a ballot paper but returned with accepted ID and were able to vote. 

In Kirklees in West Yorkshire, 683 people were turned away for not having ID, and while 413 of these returned and were issued with a ballot paper, 270 did not return. 

Kim Leadbeater, who represents the Batley and Spen constituency which covers some of Kirklees, told PoliticsHome that the official figures only “scratch the surface of the problem” and that “people of all ages” were affected. 

The Labour MP said that she had spoken to constituents on polling day and in the time since who said they had been turned away or put off from voting in the first place as a result of the new rules. 

“The number of people who couldn’t vote is vastly more than the tiny number of reported cases of abuse in the past,” she said. 

“With such low turnout at many elections, I feel passionately that we should be encouraging more people to take part in the democratic process, not putting unnecessary barriers in their way.”

The numbers that have so far been made available present a mixed picture across the country, with some areas reporting significantly lower numbers of people turned away from voting.  

Bromsgrove Council – the patch of former Chancellor Sajid Javid –  said that the number of people who were not issued with a ballot paper in the polling station was 42, but 25 of these people returned with ID, meaning that 17 were not issued with a ballot overall. 

In Great Yarmouth the number of people who arrived at polling stations without the correct form of photo ID and so were not issued with a ballot paper was 42. Of those, 21 later returned with accepted photo ID and were able to vote, the council said. 

In Bath and North East Somerset, 141 people were initially turned away, but 85 later returned with the correct documents, leaving 56 voters who did not get a ballot because of incorrect ID. 

Councils are not obliged to publish this data themselves, making it difficult to quickly gather a picture across the entire country. They must, however, hand it over to the Electoral Commission, which is expected to publish a first report on voter ID by the middle of next month. 

One local government source told PoliticsHome that it has been a “tricky job” to compile the data that is available. 

Sector officials are understood to be eager for bodies to now work together to establish why numbers were higher in some areas than others. 

Speaking at the National Conservatism conference in Westminster on Monday, former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that the voter ID policy was an attempt to “gerrymander”. The term, commonly used in US politics, means to manipulate the boundaries of an election to favour a single party. 

Rees-Mogg, who served in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, which introduced the changes, said that the government “made it hard” for their own voters and “upset a system that worked perfectly well”. 

“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections," he said. 

“We found the people who didn’t have ID were elderly and they by and large voted Conservative.” 

Earlier this month, PoliticsHome reported that there were concerns there would be gaps in the data recording the number of people turned away under the new voter ID rules. 

Ministers were urged to work “rigorously” with councils in the review process to ensure a clear picture. 

The Local Government Association said at the time  it is “vitally important” that officials are able to “transparently” examine the data on people turned away after today’s votes. 

"Electoral staff are following all guidance from the Electoral Commission to ensure the day goes as smoothly as possible and are encouraging voters who may have forgotten their photo ID to return with the appropriate documentation," Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s people and places board told PoliticsHome

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