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It’s vital we're able to track how many voters are turned away at the polls over ID requirements

(Alamy)

4 min read

Tomorrow many people across the country will head to the polls to vote in local council – and in some cases mayoral – elections.

The outcome of these elections will be vital for local decision-making and the delivery of local services. But these elections also mark a shift in the operation of our democracy in England given that, for the first time, voters will be required to show photo identification to vote in person.

A number of concerns have been raised about the introduction of voter ID, not least that it risks turning away voters without the correct ID. While as a committee (the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee) we have not taken a view on the introduction of voter ID, I have a series of personal concerns about this policy’s introduction and how it is likely to affect disproportionately those from disadvantaged and minority communities. I also have not yet had a convincing explanation as to why a young person’s travel card will not be accepted as ID at a polling station but an older persons travel card will be.

We simply won’t know how many people will have been turned away outside a polling station because they do not have the requisite ID

The Levelling Up Committee has, however, been reviewing the implementation of voter ID in connection with the upcoming local elections as part of our on-going inquiry into electoral registration. We have been looking at the potential impact of changes introduced by the Elections Act 2022 on local authorities and, in particular, electoral registration officers. The committee has heard evidence which suggests returning officers face additional burdens and complexity as a result of the changes.

The government committed to undertaking an independent review of the implementation and impact of the introduction of voter ID. Last week, I raised an Urgent Question in the House of Commons to press ministers on the insufficient efforts to record data on voters being turned away and the very real prospect of inaccurate data being used to inform this evaluation.

A significant number of local authorities plan to use greeters stationed outside polling stations to support the implementation of voter ID but the Electoral Commission latterly confirmed these greeters would not be recording the number of individuals they turned away without appropriate ID.

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. The government seems to have, in effect, designed a system which makes the sensible and co-ordinated information collection almost impossible. In these circumstances how will it be possible to judge the true impact of the introduction of voter ID? How can the government hope to draw any credible conclusions on the roll-out of voter ID, or learn vital lessons for future elections, when the data is inaccurate?

The government, having introduced the voter ID policy, should look again and properly recognise the importance of assessing and understanding the impact of these regulations on voters as well as local authorities tasked with implementing them. It is also crucial that these changes should be implemented consistently across all polling stations, particularly as we look ahead to using voter ID on a larger scale at future general elections.

Exercising our vote is, of course, a democratic right and yet, research by the Electoral Commission from 2019 analysed electoral registers and found that 17 per cent of eligible voters in Great Britain, as many as 9.4 million people, were either missing from the electoral register or not registered at their current address. The research also said that more than one in 10 of the (then current) entries on the registers were inaccurate. This should be a major cause for concern. It is a major and basic flaw in our democratic system if many millions of our fellow citizens are not able to make their voice heard at election time.

The committee’s inquiry on electoral registration will continue to look at the challenges and debates surrounding the current system of electoral registration and, later this year, we will come forward with recommendations to the government on what the United Kingdom could learn from countries with high levels of electoral registration and alternative registration systems, and examining the case for automatic or assisted systems of voter registration.

 

Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East and chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee.

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