Concerns raised after hundreds turned away in English local elections due to voter ID pilots

Written by Anahita Hossein-Pour on 14 May 2019 in News

Labour has accused the Conservatives of trying to rig future elections by requiring ID to vote

Labour has accused the Conservatives of trying to rig future elections after hundreds of people were turned away at polling stations in the latest voter ID pilot scheme.

Labour hit out at the “shambolic” trials rolled out at the English local elections on 2 May, when more than 800 voters were unable to vote because they could not provide ID, according to initial figures.

Research by the Local Government Chronicle found that despite disenfranchised voters making up less than one per cent of all voters in the pilots, the average number turned away at each trial was 102, up from 70 last year.

Data was provided by seven out of ten pilot schemes that took place earlier this month, amid UK Government efforts to curb electoral fraud.

Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement, Cat Smith, said: "As we feared, legitimate and honest voters have been denied their right to vote because of these undemocratic and unpopular pilot schemes.

"Time and time again Labour has warned that voter ID will make it harder for people to vote but the Conservatives have pushed on with their blatant attempt to rig the result of future elections by voter suppression.

"After another round of shambolic pilot schemes, it's clear that voter ID has no place in our democracy and should be abandoned immediately."

The number of pilots increased from five in 2018 to ten this year, with Derby City Council refusing the highest number of voters at 256.

Watford Borough Council barred 121 voters from casting their ballots, while Pendle Borough Council followed closely with 119 rejected.

Craven refused the highest percentage of voters at 0.69 per cent.

Various types of voter ID were eligible across the ten districts, including a single form of photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID.

According to LGC findings, returning officers at the participating councils were "overwhelmingly positive" about how the pilots went, and said turnouts were similar to previous elections, indicating people were not deterred from voting.

However, the Electoral Reform Society have called for an immediate halt to the mandatory voter ID plans.

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These initial figures from the LGC pose a stark warning about the government’s undemocratic push for mandatory voter ID.

“It is clear that, once again, many people have been denied their say – indeed, many more than there were allegations of personation fraud in the whole of the UK last year.
 
“This ‘show your papers’ policy presents an unprecedented risk to democratic access and equality. Possession of ID is not universal – with millions of people lacking the required forms of identification.

“If rolled out nationwide, mandatory voter ID could see tens of thousands of legitimate voters made voiceless.

“Trust in our democratic system is vital – which is why ministerial scaremongering about fraud is especially dangerous.

“Ministers must now focus on combatting the real threats to our democracy – rather than suppressing voters’ rights.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Voters deserve to have confidence that our elections are secure and protected from electoral fraud - which is an unacceptable crime. 

"Showing ID to vote is a reasonable way to stop this and is something people already do every day, when they pick up a parcel at the Post Office, claim their benefits, or take out a library book.

"Both last year’s pilots and the decades of experience of Northern Ireland, including at these local elections, show that voter ID does not have an adverse effect on election turnout or participation."

Full figures and evaluations of the 2019 pilots are due to be published by the Cabinet Office and Electoral Commission this summer.

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