What Does Election Law Say Now?

The Elections Act 2022 requires voters in Great Britain to show photo ID before being issued a ballot paper in polling stations. Read it at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2022/37/contents/enacted.

It applies to UK Parliamentary elections, local council elections and referendums in England and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. It will also apply to a proxy voter, someone voting in person on someone else’s behalf.

These provisions are due to be in place for May 2023’s local elections in England and at all UK Parliamentary elections held after that date.

In April 2022, the UK parliament passed a new law with the stated aim of preventing ‘personation’. This is the crime of pretending to be someone else when you vote.

This followed a lengthy campaign, promoted by the present government, and supported in parts of the media alleging that electoral outcomes were being distorted by individuals impersonating others in order to vote.

If you do not show an approved form of ID at the polling station when you go to vote, you will not be allowed to vote. 

The types of ID to be allowed are set out in schedule 1 of the Act. These include passports, photographic driving licences, biometric immigration documents and some concessionary travel passes:

  • a passport issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, a British Overseas Territory, an EEA state or a Commonwealth country;
  • a driving licence issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or an EEA state;
  • a biometric immigration document ;
  • an identity card bearing the Proof of Age Standards Scheme hologram (a PASS card);
  • a Ministry of Defence Form 90 (Defence Identity Card);
  • a relevant concessionary travel pass, including:
    • an Older Person’s Bus Pass,
    • a Disabled Person’s Bus Pass,
    • an Oyster 60+ card,
    • a Freedom Pass;
  • a “blue badge”;
  • an electoral identity document (now rebranded as the Voter Authority Certificate): either full or temporary;
  • a national identity card issued by an EEA state.

Note: this list varies according to which country within the UK you reside in.

The government acknowledges levels of fraud are low. According to the Electoral Reform Society, in 2019 there were just 34 allegations of in-person fraud, against approx.58 million votes cast without any such allegation (0.000059%).

By contrast:

In the course of a Voter ID pilot carried out in 2018, across just 5 areas (Watford, Swindon, Bromley, Gosport, and Woking) the Electoral Reform Society estimated that almost 4,000 voters in total had been turned away at polling stations initially. The final official tally of voters turned away was lower, at c.350 individuals, or 0.19% of those attempting to vote.

The number of individuals dissuaded from voting by these measures and who were prevented from voting is likely higher (according to monitoring organisation Democracy Volunteers, perhaps as high as 3,229, or 1.67% of the electorate in those areas).

There is widespread evidence that strict voter ID rules in countries such as the USA disproportionately disadvantage already marginalised groups.

Stricter voter id represents a ‘double whammy’ for certain groups:

  • According to the Electoral Commission report, younger people are less likely to be aware of new requirements around voter id.
  • The list of ‘acceptable’ forms of ID’  is skewed heavily towards forms of ID held by older people.
  • LGBTQ+ voters are even more likely to be impacted:
    • a greater proportion of the ‘out’ LGBTQ+ community is younger;
    • a greater proportion of the young LGBTQ+ community is likely to be homeless or without a fixed address, making access to acceptable ID for voting purposes difficult.
  • Transgender voters are also heavily impacted by laws demanding official ID to access services, due to:
    • significant bureaucratic obstacles to trans people obtaining official id, which have grown greater over the last decade (e.g., increasing requirement for use of deed polls or other quasi-legal forms when changing names);
    • costs of changing ID;
    • the need to change ID more than once following changes to appearance during transition;
    • embarrassment at engaging with a process that effectively outs individuals as trans.

According to correspondence between Ministers and elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, published by OpenDemocracy in November 2022, have warned that the introduction of voter ID would be neither “secure” nor “workable” by 2023. However the government has plans to launch an online system where you can get photo ID for the purposes of voting.

Increased awareness around “don’t lose your vote” campaigns (including this one!) may result in greater involvement in the election process by minorities who have traditionally been alienated from it. In other words, a net increase in minority voting. 

Turn-out will need to be closely monitored to see what impact this legislation might have.

The list of “accepted forms of identity” has been widely criticised, on the grounds that it skews greatly in favour of older voters. This, in turn, is viewed by many commentators as directly benefiting the current government, whose voters tend to be older, more settled, and therefore better able to access the approved forms of id.

In December 2022, Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan described the new law as “selective voter suppression”.

This creates two problems for UK elections going forward:

  1. A significant tranche of younger/more left-leaning electors may be excluded from the electoral process. This will increase alienation from civil society and may in time lead to the creation of a significant disenfranchised class within the UK.
  2. Even if such fears are not realised, this law undermines confidence in the electoral process. There will be an increase in legal challenges to close-run contests. The legitimacy of UK elections will not be destroyed overnight – but it will be damaged.

Check back soon for some additional reading!

The content of these pages is researched from available best sources provided by government and other official bodies, and has been checked by legal experts on behalf of TransActual. It is intended as a helpful guide to ensuring you do not lose your right to vote in UK elections in this year and subsequent years. It is not legal advice, and if you have any concerns about steps you need to take to maintain your right to vote, or any relevant deadlines, you should consult official sources online or contact the returning officer at your local council.