The Electoral Commission has conducted an interim analysis of the May local elections in England, to ascertain the impacts of voter ID requirements introduced by the UK government. It has found that a staggering 14,000 voters were turned away from polling stations, unable to cast their votes, for failing to show identification documents such as passports or driving licences.
Its analysis also found that 74% of people who did not possess ID weren’t aware of the need to bring it to be able to vote. Only 57% of voters, both with and without ID, were aware that they could have applied for a Voter Authority Certificate in place of it. All of their findings so far hold serious warnings for Wales, especially in respect of the next general election (GE).
The Commission will publish its final report on the May 2023 local elections in England this month. This will include additional analysis drawing on a wider range of sources, including feedback from candidates, charities and civil society organisations, election observers, polling station staff, the police, and returning officers. So there may be further findings relevant to Wales soon.
According to the data so far, nearly two-thirds of those who were rejected at the ballot box returned later in the day, having acquired the correct form of ID. But although most were eventually able to vote, it is essential to point out that turnout for local elections is consistently lower than that during UK parliamentary elections.
The Elections Centre has found that the percentage of overall turnout by voters for local elections in the UK during 2022 ranged from 23.4% to 51.2%. By contrast, turnout for the 2019 UK general election was 67.3%, which was low compared to many past turnouts.
Therefore, new ID requirements hold major implications for forthcoming UK parliamentary and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Wales. Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, went so far as to suggest that Wales is facing a “ticking time bomb” that could see many thousands of Welsh voters disenfranchised in the next general election.
A poisoned cure
Organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society argue that compelling voters to bring ID in order to vote risks disenfranchising poor and already marginalised communities. Indeed, research by the Electoral Commission shows that voters without approved photo ID are more likely to be from disadvantaged communities.
For instance, 10/17% of those renting from their local authority or housing association, 14% of the unemployed, 8% of those who are in ‘social grade DE’, and 7% of those with lower education attainment levels are less likely to possess photo ID. An IFF Research report found that the need to produce ID at polling stations would make it difficult to vote for 12% of those with a severely limiting disability and 8% of those with a somewhat limiting disability.
Another report released on Monday by the all-party parliamentary group on democracy and the constitution, which includes MPs and peers, states that “polling clerks are more likely to fail to compare a photo ID to the person presenting that document if the person is of a different ethnicity”. It concludes that the new rules caused more harm than good in May, and proposes reforms including broadening the range of acceptable ID documents. Given that there is very little voter fraud, one could question whether this expensive and deeply flawed development should be retained at all.
Controversial rules governing voter identification led to racial and disability discrimination at this year’s local elections in England, according to a damning report co-written by one of the former ministers responsible for introducing them … “The current voter-ID system is, as it stands, a ‘poisoned cure’ in that it disenfranchises more electors than it protects.”Kiran Stacey and Peter Walker for the Guardian, 11 September 2023
Voters in Wales
The UK government’s own estimates suggest that around 100,000 voters lack photo ID in Wales: around 4.3% of the Welsh electorate. Given that there’s also a correlation between voting and affluence, and that young people are frequently under-represented at the polls, this is a ticking time bomb indeed. The new rules are likely to further deter, as well as prevent, younger people and those in disadvantaged groups from voting. Every single vote prevented is an insult to democracy.
Then there is the news that changes proposed by the Boundary Commission for Wales mean the number of parliamentary seats in Wales will be reduced from 40 to 32 at the next GE. While boundary changes will not affect the ability to vote, they will further reduce the representation of Wales at Westminster – an institution that appears to be ever more out of touch with the people of Wales.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that the latest polls show that support for Welsh independence is back up to over a third of the population? Attempts by Westminster to undermine democracy should not play a role in shaping ours.
Our path to democracy lies not at the UK parliamentary level, but at our own. As a sovereign and independent country where we would be free to determine our own course rather than be shaped by the politics and shenanigans of Westminster. In which everyone of voting age, without exception or restriction, would easily be able to vote. Join Yes Cymru today and help make that happen.