V4CE will endeavour to campaign on ensuring that internal democracy prospers and doesn’t regress.
A shadow was cast yesterday on the UK’s democratic space when voters were told for the first time in history that to cast their vote they would require a form of Voter ID. Such is the magnitude of this new obstacle to people’s suffrage that The New York Times ran a piece yesterday titled Voter ID Rules Are Raising Hackles in Britain - noting how a concerted effort has proved controversial in parts of the United States. They cite many states where Republicans control the legislature and the governor’s seat have introduced new ID requirements as well as broader voting restrictions. In this spirit, the fear and expectation of this new barrier was that those who were more marginalised would be impacted by this with Greater London Authority analysis highlighting the following groups in London (though no elections took place in the capital it is assumed to be replicated elsewhere):
Young Londoners (18–25-year-olds)
Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and migrant Londoners, including EU Londoners
Deaf and disabled Londoners
LGBTQ+ Londoners, with a focus on trans and non-binary Londoners
Social and private renting Londoners
Academics were lining up to condemn the potential implications with University of Exeter political scientist Rebecca Baker remarking that “there will very likely be voters who turn up on the day unable to use the polling booth.”
“We may also see much longer queues to vote, in light of the extra elements needed and poor tempers, placing additional strain on the already overloaded polling staff.”
Voice4Change England has consistently opposed this introduction of Voter ID but since its approval in the Lords in the Autumn last year. It has endeavoured to provide Black and Minoritised communities with the knowledge to ensure their vote is not lost or forgotten. We have strived to equip our members via literature, workshops, and promotional videos so it would cascade to more and more who were unaware by no fault of their own. One of the areas we urged members many of which had no form of ID was to consider the Free Voter Authority Certificate which were issued by local authority/borough councils electoral services. However, The Big Issue revealed only this week that 1 in 18 applications for the government’s free form of voter ID had been rejected by councils. What’s more several councils had rejected around 15 per cent of applications for the new voter authority certificate, introduced to allow those without valid ID to vote, while one local authority rejected over a quarter of the applications it received. The findings have been branded “deeply concerning” by Jess Garland, director of policy and research, Electoral Reform Society, she went onto say that “for many voters who lack photographic ID the voter authority certificate is their only route to being able to cast a vote in this week’s elections. To find that the application process has such a high rate of rejection in some areas is deeply concerning,” Overall just 86,000 of an estimated 2 million without proper photo ID applied for the new voter authority certificate (VAC).
The parliamentary screw was also being turned just a couple of weeks ago with opposition MP’s tabling an Early Day Motion (EDM) on 24 April 2023 stating the following:
“That this House expresses deep concern at the failure of the Government’s Voter Authority Certificate (VAC) scheme, introduced as an alternative form of photo voter ID for those who do not hold an accepted form of ID under the Voter ID requirements as per the Election Act 2022, and the potential impact this will have on the May local elections; notes that the Government’s own research estimates about 2.1 million UK citizens do not have an acceptable form of ID; expects that fewer than 80,000 successful applications will have been made for Voter Authority Certificates by the April 25 deadline, representing less than 4 per cent of the number of voters estimated to be impacted; expresses concern that this policy will leave an estimated 2 million citizens unable to exercise their right to vote in future elections; and calls on the Government to scrap or postpone the introduction of the new unnecessary, costly and discriminatory Voter ID requirements.”
What Happened yesterday?
Yesterday, there was widespread reporting of people being turned away from polling stations with the Electoral Commission saying some people were "regrettably unable to vote". The Guardian also reported dozens of accounts which highlighted a series of examples in which people were turned away because they lacked one of the relatively small list of photo ID documents. The BBC reported that Andre Vince, an NHS worker in West Sussex, was "incensed" after he was unable to use his NHS ID badge to vote in the local election. Furthermore, the Guardian drew attention to Andrea Barrett, a voter in Hampshire who is immunocompromised, said she was not allowed to vote at her polling station, despite providing photographic ID and a video of her putting on her mask, as she refused to remove her face covering inside. The Electoral Reform Society, which opposes the new rules, said it had received “countless examples” of people being turned away from polling stations because they lacked proof of identity.
The Electoral Commission has said this is one of a series of issues it will look into as it evaluates how the new voter ID system worked in the weeks after Thursday’s election. However, there is deep concern around so-called greeters who were approaching people outside polling stations reminding them of the new requirements. However, if they then walked away after realising they couldn’t vote they would not be recorded on an official tally as they never entered the polling station itself. The Electoral Commission has said it will publish separate data tables for the numbers of people refused a vote based on polling stations with and without greeters. However, opposition MPs have argued this will limit the usefulness of the evaluation, and that it could be impossible to tally the numbers who did not turn out at all because they lacked ID. Helen Morgan, a Liberal Democrat MP who speaks on local government, said: “The data collected today will never tell us quite how many people have been turned away at the polling station.
This morning the Electoral Commission chairman John Pullinger acknowledged there were issues with voter ID, but said his organisation needed to collect data. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, that the commission would release an initial report next month, and a fuller report in September, on recommendations around the issue. He added that the rules were set by Parliament and that once the
assessment was completed "there will be the chance for politicians to make a view as to whether something should be changed or not".
Voice4Change England will continue to both advocate the repeal of this legislation wherever possible but also ensure that if it remains that V4CE members and beyond will kept abreast of any future developments. We do not see this as a factional issue but an affront to our democratic life and will endeavour to campaign on ensuring that internal democracy prospers and doesn’t regress. We will look forward to reading the Electoral Commission initial findings later next month and the follow up in September.