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Fears That Voter ID Data Might Not Show The True Number Of People Turned Away

A polling station in Kings Langley for this year's local elections (Alamy)

4 min read

Concerns have been raised over potential gaps in the data recording the number of people being turned away for not having voter ID.

Local elections are taking place across England on Thursday, with thousands of results due to be announced in the coming days. It is the first set of elections in England that will require people to show photo ID at the polling station in order to vote. 

Ministers are now being urged to work “rigorously” with councils in the coming weeks as they review the voter ID rollout with the Electoral Commission to ensure that a clear picture can be seen of the extent to which people found themselves unable to vote as a result of new rules. 

The data on a person being turned away from voting can only be recorded at the ballot issuing desk at every polling station. 

However, some polling stations may also have staff acting as “greeters” at the door, who can remind people about the need for voter ID. The greeters cannot officially record if a person leaves without casting their vote if they do not have ID. 

The issue of greeters not collecting data on people turned away was first reported by The Guardian last week, and has since been raised in the House of Commons.  

The Electoral Commission said: “The presence of a greeter at a polling station is likely to affect the data recorded at the desk. For this reason, local authorities will need to separate out data for polling stations with and without greeters when submitting data after the polls.”

But PoliticsHome understands that some local government figures remain concerned that the data collection will not present an “accurate” picture of numbers of people turned away if they arrive without voter ID and leave and decide not to return after talking to a greeter before reaching the ballot issuing desk.

The Local Government Association has now said 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 on Thursday.

“Councils will be reporting into the Electoral Commission’s review of the process in the coming days and weeks.

“It is vitally important that the Government work with councils to rigorously and transparently evaluate the implementation of voter ID at today’s elections to ensure lessons are learned ahead of future elections.”

The issues have also been raised by chair of the levelling up and communities committee, Clive Betts, who asked how the government “hope to draw any credible conclusions” from the data. 

Writing in The House magazine on Wednesday, Betts pointed to the greeters, and said that the procedure meant that the “Electoral Commission, in other words, confirmed that we simply won’t know how many people will have been turned away in a queue outside a polling station because they do not have the requisite ID”. 

During an urgent question last week, minister Rachel Maclean told MPs that the government is "very concerned to get the process of data collection correct". 

Earlier this week one expert told PoliticsHome that they believe postal vote fraud is the bigger issue, and one that is not being tackled by the new voter ID rules. 

Politics professor Jon Tonge said that “having photographic ID is solving a problem that largely doesn't exist because there's very few proven cases of impersonation”.

He added: “What's anomalous about this, though, is that nearly one in five of us now vote by post, and postal voting appears remarkably lax in terms of its operation.

“What stories of electoral fraud there have been in recent years have involved almost exclusively postal voting.”

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