An Electoral Commission report has found that the voter identification scheme trialed at May’s Local Elections, in five Council areas, ‘worked well’ and that only ‘a very small number didn’t vote because they couldn’t show’ the correct identification.

In an election that delivered the status quo, there was a significant change in the way some people voted. In Bromley, Swindon, Woking, Gosport, and Watford, voters had to identify themselves before being able to vote, for instance, by presenting a photo from a driving license or passport.

The report concluded that the identification schemes made voters in these pilot areas ‘significantly less likely to think electoral fraud took place’. However, it was cautious in marking this as a turning point in the conduct of British elections, saying ‘further work is needed’ because there has ‘not been enough evidence collected’ to fully address concerns. It went on to recommend that the UK Government should encourage a ‘wider range’ of councils to run pilot schemes in the upcoming May 2019 Local Elections, calling on the Government to direct the schemes and make it clearer how exactly they want them to be run.

Impact on younger voters

Although the report states that there was no evidence of turnout being ‘significantly affected’, with 86 per cent of voters being aware that they had to bring identification, it did warn of certain groups that were less likely to know. These included those aged under 35 and also poorer voters, with 18 per cent of C2DEs not knowing of the need for identification, compared to only 9 per cent of ABCs.

In addition, younger voters, aged under 35, were found to be ‘less likely’ to say that they would find it ‘easy’ to show identification at a future election.

In Watford, there was a correlation between the number of Asian/British Asian voters and the number of voters both without identification or not returning to the polling station with the correct identification after being made aware of the scheme. Although this perhaps points towards the scheme affecting the ability of certain demographic groups to vote, this seems a premature conclusion to make, especially when the report collected demographic data from only 12 Wards in one local authority area.

Nevertheless, this does raise concerns for the future should a wider roll-out take place, as these percentages multiplied onto a larger national scale could lead to a significant skewing of results because of the identification scheme. In light of such issues, the report stresses the need for an improved advertisement campaign about the scheme, perhaps targetting these particular groups. The report also found that the advertisement campaign leading up to the election increased the public’s awareness of the scheme by 19 per cent.

There were also concerns raised about whether such a scheme was ready to be rolled out nationally, with reports in Watford of queues being formed as a result of the time it took for the scanning of poll cards — thus explaining the Electoral Commission’s reluctance to recommend a national roll-out.

The impact the identification had on voters overall though was negligent, with the report finding that only 2 per cent of those who didn’t vote cited the need for identification as a reason. This is compared to 10 per cent who said they were not interested, whilst 79 per cent of voters asked in the pilot areas said ‘identification had made no difference’.

Impact on ‘security’ of elections

At a time when the ‘security’ of elections is being questioned internationally, the report said that the identification scheme made people ‘less likely’ to think electoral fraud had taken place.

However, as a result of limited evidence the Electoral Commission didn’t affirm conclusively that the scheme made voters have more belief in the system, stating instead that the schemes:

‘may have had some positive impact on the level of public confidence in the security of the system’.

To suggest that May 2018 marked a turning point in the conduct of elections would be premature. However, despite the problems raised in the report, the Electoral Commission found the scheme enough of a success to recommend more trials in May 2019. It also found enough problems to be reluctant to argue for a national roll-out of the scheme.

The Commission needs more evidence of the impact identification is having on voters, particularly on a larger scale. However, it is this sensibly steady and rational approach that is needed when contemplating such a significant change to the British electoral system.

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