Democracy Volunteers deployed teams across the four councils conducting Voter ID Pilots on May 2nd. Teams of observers were deployed to Derby, Pendle, Mid-Sussex and Woking.
The selection of these four councils was partly based on the specific nature of Derby and Pendle, having previously been identified as areas of concern in the so-called “Pickles Report”. The inclusion of Woking and Mid-Sussex was primarily to have a comparison with the data from 2018, but also to add a comparatively rural area. In total in excess of 40 observers were deployed across the 4 councils with the vast majority of these being in Derby and Pendle. The number of stations observed in each was:
- Derby 71
- Mid-Sussex 12
- Pendle 53
- Woking 27
Observers attended polling stations in teams of two. This started with the opening of polls at 7am and ended at 10pm. Normally our observations last no less than 30 minutes and no more than 45 minutes per polling station. However, in order to see as much of the process in such focused areas, where there was the chance of relatively low turnouts, we requested that our observers spend a minimum of an hour in each station. In some cases, they remained for considerably longer than this. On exiting the polling station, the two observers completed an online form with their immediate report of their observations at that polling station.
THE VOTERS EXCLUDED
Whilst direct comparisons are difficult to between the data collected in 2018 with that in 2019, we include it here so that those assessing the impacts of the Voter ID trials have the evidence before proceeding to the possible next stage of this process – presumably legislation.
In 2019, 56% of those voters who were unable to vote were female, compared to 61% in 2018. Whilst more women may present themselves at polling stations than men, not that we evidence to this effect, we would suggest that this suggests that women are more affected than men by the potential introduction of Voter ID.
Whilst the ethnic origin of most voters excluded was White, namely 51%, 49% of all the voters excluded were from other ethnic groups. The second largest group of those unable to vote were Pakistanis, which make up a significant part of the local population in Derby and Pendle. Notably this percentage is higher than the census data for these areas. Whilst it was difficult to assess other aspects of data related to those voters who were excluded our observers did report that those voters who were excluded from White backgrounds tended to be in more economically challenged areas.
Finally, we asked each voter why they were unable to vote. 55% indicated it was because they did not have the correct ID with them. 26% indicated it was because they were not aware it was a requirement despite local publicity campaigns on the issue and 12% informed our observers it was because they did not own the correct ID. Although the sample is small this number is concerning as it suggests that they would not be able to vote unless this was more actively arranged for them. One voter has also recently changed her name and so her ID, whilst being her, was not enough to pass the ID test.
As in 2018, the Voter ID trials that Democracy Volunteers observed were well conducted and administered by those in polling stations. They seemed to be well-resourced and had increased numbers of staff to manage the process. Queuing was often observed by the team but this did not seem to be directly related to the process of ID checking. We observed a number of voters who were unable to pass the test for ID because they either did not possess it, have it with them or they had not been informed that they needed it. Neither voters nor staff seemed entirely aware of the potential of local certification of voters and this did lead to some confusion. The form and type of ID was also something which exercised voters as some clearly believed that this change gave an impression that they were somehow criminal and that some IDs were not included as acceptable despite being issued by public bodies. The various tests of ID do suggest that there are several possible ways forward that would minimise the possibility of exclusion of voters through the introduction of ID to vote on a wider national scale. The challenge for the UK authorities is evaluating whether the stated objective of reducing voter personation fraud is outweighed by the number of exclusions that seem to be generated through the harder forms of Voter ID, as was seen by Democracy Volunteers, especially in Derby and Pendle.
As we believe the next intended step planned by the UK Government is to legislate on this matter, whether future pilots are included or not, some consideration should be given to the issues which the data collected indicates. Whilst we concede that we did not observe every excluded voter we also believe there were some concerning aspects of the process which would need to remediated before legislation.
R1 We would encourage the UK Government to explain how the introduction of Voter ID will not exclude a higher proportion of BAME voters compared to the rest of the population.
R2 We would further encourage the UK Government to explain how the introduction of Voter ID will not exclude a higher proportion of those who cannot afford a passport or driving licence or who are no longer able to access these forms of ID due to limited or restricted income.
Whilst we have not seen direct evidence that this is a stated objective of possible legislation there is evidence that voters from BAME communities are more affected by the introduction of the hard forms of Voter ID. Often individuals do not drive or travel internationally and do not have the resources to fund these forms of ID. If hard ID is introduced then it should be on a basis that voters have equal access to it. Thus, if legislation is brought forward to require hard ID to vote we would recommend:
R3 The UK Government should issue photo ID to all those without a UK passport and/or driving licence free of charge – as previously recommended by the UK’s Electoral Commission.
Not to do so would have the possibility of actively restricting the franchise to only those that have and can afford ID. Whilst we understand that there is a cost to this, as previously costed by the Electoral Commission, we also believe this could save the UK Government money from applications for provisional driving licences amongst some parts of the population. Without this remediation we believe the UK Government could be accused of acting in a manner intended to suppress voter access to the voting process – something that it would be unwise to do.
However, we also believe that the process of making scannable polling cards an aspect of voting, going forward, has some merit. At the moment, no polling card is required, indeed having observed numerous UK elections we know that statistically only about two-thirds of voters attend with their card. However, possession of the polling card, and it being scanned at polling stations, would add greater accuracy to the marking of the register during polling day limiting the chance of inaccurate recording and the unintentional exclusion of voters through administrative error – which we do observe on occasions.
However, this introduction would have a cost, as all polling stations would be required to have the necessary equipment to achieve this, but it would allow for other possible voting options such as advanced voting, thus helping to reduce the need for extensive postal voting, as well as allowing voters to vote in any polling station in their council area. This could also help to increase voter turnout.
R4 We believe the UK Government should move to introduce barcoded polling cards as standard and support this with the necessary IT funding that would be caused by this change. We further believe that this change would make administration more accurate, voters would need to bring it with them and that this could lead to wider options for voters accessing the polls.
Although we believe that further pilots are unlikely, we do believe that the pilots undertaken so far do not really take place in a context that would be normal if Voter ID were to be introduced more widely. Invariably extra staff are available to conduct the trials, often double the normal number. They are also only conducted in the context of local elections which generally only have a limited turnout. We question how ID would practically work in the context of a UK general election or referendum which see significantly higher turnouts when staff will just be two per polling station.
Further information on the observation can be found in the final report below.