In last week’s Queen’s Speech, the Government announced its intention to introduce a requirement for voters to produce photographic ID at the polling station.

People who do not have an approved form of photographic ID will be able to apply for a free local electoral identity document. This Insight brings together some key facts and figures on this new policy.

Reasons and risks

The Government states that requiring voters to show some form of ID will reduce the risk of voter fraud and improve the integrity of the electoral process. Showing ID will prevent people from pretending to be someone else at the polling station, an electoral offence known as personation. The proposals do not have implications for other forms of electoral fraud, such as offences relating to postal votes or campaign expenses.

Critics have argued that the requirement will make it more difficult for people to vote and will disproportionately affect marginal groups, including ethnic minorities.

Voter fraud statistics

The Electoral Commission, an independent body set up by the UK Parliament, analyses cases of electoral fraud. The chart below shows the number of cases of electoral fraud reported to the police each year since 2010. In the majority of these cases, no further action was taken because there was insufficient evidence.

A bar chart showing cases of electoral offences reported from 2010 to 2018.

Most cases related to campaign offences (49% of all reported cases in 2017 and 48% in 2018), for example where a party does not include details about the publisher on election material. This was followed by voting offences (31% of all cases in 2017 and 21% in 2018).

In 2017, one person was convicted for the crime of personation at the polling station. Eight police cautions were given in relation to other offences. In 2018, there were no convictions or cautions for personation. One person was convicted and two accepted a caution for electoral offences other than personation.

Voter ID pilots

Several local authorities piloted different voter ID schemes at the local elections of 2018 and 2019, under provisions of the Representation of the People Act 2000. In 2018, about 340 people were turned away at the polling station for not having the right form of ID and did not return to vote. In 2019, there were 740. This was between 0.03% and 0.7% of all voters in each local authority.

The Electoral Commission said afterwards that the pilots “ran well but several important questions remain about how an identification requirement would work in practice.”

Access to photographic ID

The Electoral Commission has argued for a voter ID scheme since 2014. It set out a rationale and costing for such a scheme in 2015. As part of this analysis, it provided estimates of the number of people who do not have access to any of the following forms of ID:

  • photographic driving licence
  • passport
  • Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) card
  • military identification card
  • police identification card
  • and firearms licence.
  • photographic public transport passes, including certain concessionary travel passes such as the Freedom Pass and Oyster Photocard

The Commission’s research estimated that:

  • Approximately 3.5m electors (7.5% of the electorate) would have none of the forms of photo ID highlighted, i.e. 92.5% of electors would already have at least one form of acceptable photo ID. 
  • Limiting acceptable ID to passports and photographic driving licences would see potentially 11m electors, or 24% of the electorate, without acceptable ID. 
  • Allowing only passports, photographic driving licences and Oyster Photocards to be used reduce the number of electors without ID to 6m, or 13% of the electorate.

These estimates have not been updated since 2015 .

Who is most likely to be affected?

The Commission also noted that 2011 Census data shows that White groups and mixed White and Black Caribbeans are less likely than other groups to hold a passport. DVLA data showed that women, people under 20 and over 65, and people in London are less likely to hold a driving licence.

Overall, the Census shows that 19% of people in White groups did not have a passport in 2011, compared with 7% of ‘other’ groups and 17% of the total population. The RAC estimates that 75% of people aged 17 and over in England held a full driving licence in 2018. It also noted that the proportion of older people with driving licences has increased since 1995.

Analysis by Professor Chris Hanretty and Financial Times journalist John Burn-Murdoch suggests that there is a strong association between the possession of a driving licence and voting patterns: those without a driving license were more likely to report voting Labour (57%) than Conservative (27%) at the 2017 General Election.

Electoral registration

Before people can vote, they need to be registered. The Electoral Commission recently published its analysis of the 2018 electoral registers. It found that between 8.3 million and 9.4 million eligible voters were not correctly registered.

Certain groups were less likely to be on the electoral register, including young people, people living in private rented accommodation and ethnic minorities. Since 2015, people need to register individually and can do so online.

Voters in Northern Ireland

Voters in Northern Ireland have produced ID at the polling station since 1985. Photographic ID has been required since 2002 (with electoral ID cards for those not in possession of any other form of photographic ID).

The chart below shows turnout at the most recent General Election in Northern Ireland, compared with the other parts of the UK. There are many factors that affect turnout in Northern Ireland, including the reluctance of parts of the nationalist community to engage with institutions of the British state. The chart therefore includes turnout for the most recent European Parliament election as well. Turnout in Northern Ireland was not substantially different in these two elections.

A bar chart showing turnout across the UK for the European Parliament elections in 2019 and the 2017 General Election. The chart shows results for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England separately.

Voter ID in other countries

Voter ID requirements exist in other countries, including Canada, Germany, India, Sweden and some US states. In some countries where you need a photographic ID to vote, such as the Netherlands, carrying one is always compulsory.

Further reading

About the author: Elise Uberoi is a researcher specialising in social and general statistics at the House of Commons Library.