Councils who trialed a controversial scheme requiring voters to take ID to polling stations have revealed how many people were denied the chance to take part in this year’s local elections.
Many MPs and councillors were left furious after constituents in Woking, Gosport, Bromley, Watford and Swindon were turned away from ballot boxes if they failed to present proof of who they were.
Scores were told they would not be allowed to vote as part of the test being run in the five areas by the Cabinet Office, which wants to cut the risk of electoral fraud.
So far only Gosport and Swindon councils have released official figures on how many voters were sent home, and how many later returned with the requisite identification.
The former said the “overwhelming majority” of its 20,612 residents who turned out brought the correct proof, with just 44 denied their right to vote.
To qualify, they needed to show one form of photo ID, such as a passport or driving licence, or two forms of non-photo ID, including council tax bills and bank statements.
The Hampshire council added that a total of 72 people had no ID or incorrect ID at first, but returned later and were given their ballot papers.
Returning office Michael Lawther said: “We ran a very extensive publicity campaign to tell people they needed to bring ID, and what types of ID were acceptable.
“I would like to thank voters for their co-operation and for helping us with this exercise.”
In Swindon, 62,166 people voted and 60 were asked to come back with ID.
Returning officer Stephen Taylor said 35 of those cast their vote later, “leaving just 0.04 per cent of eligible electors who did not either return with alternative ID or seek a replacement poll card”.
“The government-funded trial of the use of voter ID in Swindon ran extremely smoothly overall and we estimate at this stage that turnout is up on comparable previous years by around six per cent to 40 per cent,” he added.
“A huge amount of work went on behind the scenes here in Swindon to raise awareness of the voter ID trial and we carried out extensive engagement with local groups following a detailed equality impact assessment, which was scrutinised by the Cabinet Office, the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the council itself.”
Bromley and Woking councils said they would put together reports including all of their data at a later date, which will be presented to the Electoral Commission and Cabinet Office.
Both organisations will carry out independent evaluations before a decision is taken on whether to roll the scheme out nationally, despite calls from Labour politicians for it to be abandoned.
Lewisham MP Ellie Reeves said she was not confident polling station staff had been adequately briefed on the policy, after one man was turned away after presenting a listed accepted form of ID and another was told a hard copy of their proof of address was needed.
Blogging for HuffPost UK, she said the government was seeking to “solve a problem that never really existed”.
“In 2017 there was only one convicted case of electoral fraud based on impersonation,” she added. “Furthermore, the UK’s official statistics watchdog condemned the government’s argument that voter fraud has more than doubled in two years as misleading.
“I believe these proposals are far too draconian and will only serve to disenfranchise voters.
“Voting is a fundamental right in our society and we should be proud of this. But the notion that we can tighten access to this right, however small it may be, should worry us all.”
Shadow minister for voter engagement, Cat Smith, claimed “independent observers” estimated that voters were refused a ballot paper in 21% of polling stations because they did not have ID and called on ministers to scrap the proposals.
“There was absolutely no case for introducing voter ID in the first place but after yesterday’s fiasco, it is impossible for the government to justify rolling it out,” she said.