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In April 2022, the Elections Act 2022 was passed by the UK Parliament. The Act will require voters in Great Britain to show photo ID before being issued a ballot paper in polling stations at UK Parliamentary elections, local council elections in England and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales.

The voter ID provisions will not take effect immediately and will not be in place for English local elections in May 2022.

The Government expects detailed secondary legislation needed to for voter ID to work in practice, including the new free voter card, will be passed later in 2022. Voter ID requirements should then be in place for local elections in England May 2023 and at any UK Parliamentary election held after that date.

The types of ID to be allowed are set out in section 5. These include passports, photographic driving licences, biometric immigration documents and some concessionary travel passes. Free voter cards will be made available for those without any other form of photographic ID.

In February 2022 the Government released a policy paper with more detail about the types of ID and provision of the free voter card. The Government’s view is the types of ID are secure and accessible to “the vast majority of the population” and has said:

“We have and will continue to work with charities and civil society organisations across the UK to ensure that voter identification works for all voters, and all groups are aware of the new requirements.”

In advance of the Elections Bill, the Government commissioned research that showed 98% of voters already held some form of photo ID and 96% held photo with a recognisable photo.

Voter ID is designed to prevent ‘personation’, the electoral offence of pretending to be someone else when you vote. The Government acknowledges levels of fraud are low but argues that every ballot matters, and that voter ID will protect voters from having their vote stolen.

Opposition

During the passage of the Elections Bill opposition parties highlighted concerns that requiring photo ID might disenfranchise some voters. Cat Smith (Labour) said, “Concerns have been raised from across the House and from charities and campaigning organisations that disabled people, older people, younger people and people without the spare cash to buy that passport or driving licence are going to be disenfranchised.”

Brendan O’Hara (SNP) expressed highlighted the incidence of personation was low saying, “voter fraud at polling stations barely reaches the height of minuscule…We have to ask: what is the problem they are seeking to solve?”

During the Lords stages of the Bill an amendment from Lord Willets (Conservative) was passed that extended the list of types of ID to other types of photo ID and non-photo ID. The amendment was overturned by the House of Commons. The Government’s view was the types of ID listed were not sufficiently secure and might be prone to fraud.

Current requirements

People casting their vote in polling stations in Great Britain currently do not normally need to present any form of ID before receiving a ballot paper.

Voters in Northern Ireland must provide photo ID before they are given a ballot paper. Electoral Commission research found little evidence that the ID requirements in Northern Ireland have affected turnout and the allegations of personation have been eliminated.

Why introduce voter ID?

Since 2014, the Electoral Commission has recommended that ID should be required in Great Britain before voters are issued with a ballot paper. In December 2015 the Commission published a report on delivering and costing (PDF) a voter ID scheme. One of its key assumptions was that photo ID would be required but also cautioned that accessibility was fundamental and any scheme should be backed up by a free voter card for those without an alternative.

In August 2016 the then Government Anti-Corruption Champion, Lord Pickles, published a report on electoral fraud. It highlighted the trust-based nature of polling station voting and recommended that the Government should consider voter ID. He suggested the Government pilot various options before introducing a system nationwide.

Voter ID pilot schemes

Pilots were held in 2018 and 2019. The Government declared them a success following its own evaluations and committed to introducing a voter ID scheme. The Government said that the overwhelmingly majority of people were able to vote and “there is no indication that any consistent demographic was adversely affected by the use of voter ID.”

The Local Government Information Unit criticised the Cabinet Office evaluations as being an “optimistic interpretation of extremely limited evidence” and that only “marginal information is available on the demographic makeup of the pilot areas”.

A voter without the required voter ID challenged the pilots in the courts. The case eventually came before the Supreme Court but in April 2022 it gave its judgement that the pilots were legal.

What the Electoral Commission has said about the pilots

The Electoral Commission’s statutory evaluations of the pilots said they were well run and found that most people already have access to suitable photo ID.  

Its 2019 evaluation found that some groups of people may find it harder than others to show photo ID. It also found using poll cards as the approved type of ID would be less secure than photo ID and would require more costly equipment.

The Commission has cautioned that a national rollout must ensure voting remains accessible for all and that the application process for a free voter card should be easy and accessible. It also says a voter ID scheme should be introduced with manageable timescales and proper funding.

Canada

Canada introduced voter ID in federal elections in 2008, following cross-party agreement by the three main parties.

Similar concerns about accessibility and security were raised as the current debate in the UK. A case study of the use in Canada briefly outlines the introduction of voter ID, the legal challenge, and procedural changes since it was introduced.


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