Tens of thousands of disabled people may have been deprived of their vote at May’s local elections in England because of the government’s new rules* on providing voter identification, a new report suggests.
Data from polling stations shows that at least 0.25 per cent of voters who turned up to polling stations – at least 14,000 – were not issued with a ballot paper because of the requirement to show photo identification (ID) to vote in person.
But the interim report from the Electoral Commission says this is an under-estimate of the number affected, because of the quality of the data that was collected.
And the commission also found – through a survey – that four per cent of people who said they did not vote in the elections gave an unprompted reason related to the ID rules, with three per cent of them saying they did not have the necessary ID and one per cent saying they disagreed with the need to show ID.
The proportion of non-voters giving an ID-related reason rose from four per cent to seven per cent when survey respondents were selecting from a list of reasons.
The report says the survey evidence suggests that disabled and unemployed people were more likely than other groups to give a reason related to ID for not voting.
The commission will now carry out further research to “establish a clearer picture”.
The local elections took place in 230 areas in England in May, and about 27 million people were eligible to vote.
This suggests that hundreds of thousands of people – and tens of thousands of disabled people – may have had an ID-related reason for not voting.
The research also showed that 92 per cent of people in areas with elections were aware that they needed to show identification at a polling station, while the commission told Disability News Service (DNS) that 93 per cent of disabled people were aware of the ID requirement.
The report is based on evidence from public opinion research carried out before and after the elections, and polling station figures collected from most councils that held polls this year.
Anna Morell, media and communications manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “For those who struggled to obtain ID, a fundamental right afforded to all other eligible citizens was effectively removed from them.
“It is imperative that the Electoral Commission uses robust methodology to look at the impacts of the use of voter ID on minority groups and takes action to ensure that disabled people are not adversely affected in future elections.”
The Electoral Commission – the independent body which oversees UK elections and regulates political finance – will publish a full report in September on the elections with recommendations and further analysis, including an assessment of feedback from charities, candidates, returning officers, polling station staff, election observers and police.
Craig Westwood, the commission’s director of communications, policy and research, said: “It is too soon to draw conclusions about the impact of voter ID on specific groups of people, but some of the emerging evidence is concerning.
“Elections should be accessible to everyone, so we are working to build a better understanding of the specific experiences of voters at these elections.
“This includes consultation with those voters we know are most at risk of facing barriers to participation.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said: “It’s vital we keep our democracy secure, prevent the potential for voter fraud, and bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.
“We welcome the Electoral Commission’s interim report on May’s local elections which shows that the vast majority of voters – 99.75 per cent – were able to cast their vote successfully and adapted well to the rollout of voter identification in Great Britain.
“Our reforms put in place measures to ensure disabled voters can participate fully in our democracy, including improvements to equipment made available in polling stations and making it easier to get help to vote from a companion.”
DNS challenged the accuracy of the DLUHC statement, and suggested that the Electoral Commission survey results meant hundreds of thousands of voters may not have voted for ID-related reasons, while the commission also made it clear that the polling station data was an under-estimate.
But the DLUHC spokesperson said: “We stand by our statement as the data showed that the vast majority of voters who tried to vote were able to successfully cast their ballots.”
The government will carry out its own evaluation of the impact of the voter ID measures, which should be published by the end of November.
*From October, photo ID will be needed at UK parliamentary general elections, but it will not be required at local elections in Scotland or Wales, or elections to the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Senedd. It is already a requirement in Northern Ireland
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