A Government move to insist voters show ID when going to the polls has been condemned after multiple reports of people being turned away during pilot schemes.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has condemned the policy to crackdown on voter fraud as “draconian” after claiming there is “mounting evidence” that significant numbers of people were unable to vote.
People in Woking, Gosport, Bromley, Watford and Swindon were told to bring along proof of who they are if they wanted to vote in their local council elections on Thursday.
The new measures are part of a pilot scheme being run by the Cabinet Office, which may be rolled out nationally if it is deemed successful.
Angela Wilkins, leader of the Labour group in Bromley, said five people have been unable to vote at polling stations as a result of the pilot and that the scheme is also causing long delays.
She tweeted: “Just been round the C Palace polling stations. 5 people not able to vote due to #voterID pilot and several walked away because of queues. So why are we doing this?”
Labour councillor Tahir Aziz said a man was turned away from voting at a polling station on Walton Road in Woking because his form of ID - a Surrey County Council document with his picture on it - was not accepted.
Aziz said: “This gentleman turned up, showed his ID which included a picture that was clearly him, it was an exact resemblance, but they wouldn’t accept it as it was not on the list of acceptable forms of ID.
“He was fuming. He was furious. He is a British national and he couldn’t vote.
“It is having an impact on certain people being disenfranchised by this trial.”
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said the trials were the “chaotic, undemocratic mess many predicted”.
“There is mounting evidence from the pilot areas that ordinary people have been denied their democratic right to vote because of the voter ID requirements.
“This is exactly what we feared: that this draconian measure would result in blameless individuals being disenfranchised.”
He added: “With more and more examples of honest voters shut out by this policy, these deeply flawed trials must not be a fait accompli for a national roll-out.”
Ordinarily, people can turn up at their designated polling station and cast their vote without showing any ID and do not even have to take their polling card with them, which ministers claim increases the risk of electoral fraud.
The changes have reportedly caught some residents out, leaving some unable to exercise their democratic right and sparking fury among Labour politicians, who opposed the scheme.
Ellie Reeves, Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, where one of the trials is taking place, said there were reports throughout the day of queues at polling stations and the trials had erected a “hugely unnecessary barrier” to citizens trying to exercise their democratic rights.
She said: “Compare that to the fact there was only one conviction for electoral fraud based on impersonation in 2017, it just seems like it’s using a sledgehammer to crack a nut in terms of what it’s going to achieve.
“Bromley is a fairly affluent, well-settled community. But if you have this in places where the population is much more transient, where there’s a much higher ethnic minority population… it could have an incredibly detrimental effect on people being able to vote if it’s rolled out across the country.”
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement, said the government was warned against the trial by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, charities and academics, who claimed it would unfairly impact vulnerable groups, including ethnic minority voters.
She said: “Instead of listening to the experts and the vast evidence base, the government decided to implement a mistaken policy with the full knowledge that voters could be disenfranchised.
“The fact that voters were denied their right to vote is proof that voter ID has no place in our democracy.”
When the pilot scheme was first announced, then-constitution minister Chris Skidmore said it would help people “have confidence in the democratic process”.
“The current situation of people simply pointing out their name without having to prove who they are feels out of date when considering other safeguards to protect people’s identity,” he added.
“It is harder to take out a library book or collect a parcel at a post office than it is to vote in someone’s name.
“I am very hopeful that by taking a careful evidence-based approach in these pilots we will be able to roll out ID in polling stations at future elections.”
The Electoral Commission said those running elections in all areas affected by the trial had carried out publicity campaigns.
“Returning Officers administering the elections in the pilot areas have run awareness campaigns to inform voters of what form of identification they need to bring in order to be able to vote,” a spokesperson said.
“We encourage anyone who has queries about the pilots to contact their local council’s electoral services department. Polling stations are open until 10pm.”