14,000 voters turned away – but probably many more

At the time of the local elections last month in England many of us were concerned that voters were being turned away at polling stations because they did not have the required photo ID. I wrote this post at the time: “Voter ID – did it prevent electoral fraud or did it interfere with voters’ rights?

I was telling for a couple of hours in a neighbouring borough, where a greeter checked everyone’s ID before they entered the polling station. Apparently greeters were employed at 40% of the polling stations. The significance of this is that voters who were turned away outside were not recorded at all – it was only those who got inside and were then turned away who were noted in the stats.

The Electoral Commission has published some preliminary findings with a more detailed report expected later in the year. It says that 14,000 would-be voters were not issued ballot papers – a figure that is worrying in itself – but it does not know how many were caught by the greeters before they stepped inside the polling station.

We also have to remember that this report covers only a proportion of English councils – 260 out of 383 across the UK – and that the turnout at local elections is about half of that at general elections. My rough calculation suggest that the figure of 14,000 could be grossed up to 40,000 if it had been a general election instead.

Back to the hard facts in the report. It seems that 8% of those eligible to vote in May did not know about the ID requirement, but that percentage was even lower amongst ethnic minorities and 18-24 year olds, where a whopping 18% were unaware that they had to produce ID.

The figure of 14,000 does not include those who were initially turned away but who returned later in the day with acceptable ID and were able to vote.

But there is more:

We found that 4% of people who said they did not vote in these elections gave an unprompted reason related to the ID rules – 3% said they did not have the necessary ID and 1% said they disagreed with the need to show ID. The proportion of non-voters giving an ID-related reason rose from 4% to 7% when survey respondents were selecting from a list of reasons.

On top of that Voter ID impacted on some groups more than others:

There is evidence that some people found it harder than others to show accepted voter ID, including disabled people and the unemployed. However, further data collection and analysis are needed to establish a clearer picture and we will include additional information in our full report in September.

We do need to remind ourselves about the ostensible reason for the introduction of Voter ID by the Government – to reduce personation (ie pretending to be someone else in order to vote) at a polling station.  In the 2022 local elections some 13 cases of personation were recorded by the police, of which 7 were at polling stations. Sledgehammer/nut comes to mind. Hence the very real suspicion that Voter ID is designed to supress voting  – or at least was its known consequence.

Helen Morgan is our local government spokesperson and this is what she has to say:

It is an outrage that thousands of people were denied a voice at the local elections because of the Conservative Party’s Voter ID rules.

Obstructing people’s right to vote like this in such a disproportionate way is a complete waste of money that undermines our democracy.

It looks like a transparent attempt at voter suppression by Conservative ministers who are desperate to stop people from holding them to account by any means possible.

The government needs to sit up and listen to these findings, and back my bill to scrap Voter ID once and for all.



* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • John Swarbrick 23rd Jun '23 - 5:02pm

    Some councils have published the ward data of the numbers who were refused a vote. It’s even clearer from those that some demographics were hit harder than others.

    I wouldn’t want to say that out loud too often because I suspect it was the intention.

  • ” The proportion of non-voters giving an ID-related reason rose from 4% to 7% when survey respondents were selecting from a list of reasons.”

    A clear illustration of the effect context and the way a question is presented will impact the response.

    It would seem, whilst there has been some reduction in turnout, overall it hasn’t been significant. Thus I would be tempted to throw this back in the faces of those who were thinking voter ID would significantly skew the vote to their advantage.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Jun '23 - 4:55pm

    Just when we might expect turnout to increase due to the volatility of our democracy, the government introduces a measure to counter it. We don’t know how voter ID influenced the decision to vote. It certainly won’t have improved it. Without pilots we will never know the true effect. It is unnecessary and regressive.

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