Evaluating the controversial voter ID pilots run during this May’s local elections, the Electoral Commission has recommended more testing next year:
Our evaluation involved collecting and analysing a wide range of data and information.
Key findings include:
- 0.6% of people wanted to vote at their polling station but did not have the right identification; many of them came back with the right identification, but 0.2% did not.
- People in areas where the pilot schemes took place were significantly less likely to think that electoral fraud took place than those in other areas where elections were also held in May 2018.
- Electoral staff successfully ran the pilot schemes in all of the five pilot areas and close to 100% of polling staff also told us they were confident about the process they had to follow in order to check voters’ identification.
- Nearly nine out of ten (86%) polling station voters said they
- were aware beforehand that they had to show identification to vote at their polling station.
- Nearly everyone was able to show the right identification at their polling station, and almost eight in ten (79%) people said the requirement made no difference to whether or not they voted.
Our evaluation identified a number of areas where further work is required, where evidence was not found to disprove concerns or where evidence was inconclusive. This relates particularly to the potential impact on some groups of people who may find it harder than others to show certain types of identification.
In order to provide the best possible evidence base for any decisions about identification requirements for voters in the future, we recommend the Government should:
- Encourage a wider range of local authorities to run pilot schemes in 2019. These should include a mixture of rural and large urban areas, and areas with different demographic profiles.
- Set out more specifically how pilot schemes in May 2019 should be designed and run. This would help to make sure there is a good range of evidence to test the impact of different options in different parts of England.
- Work with Returning Officers, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and organisations that represent people with different needs to carry out robust equality impact assessments for future pilot schemes.
BBC’s More or Less ran a good piece on why some of the initial post-election reports of problems with the voter ID pilots were greatly over-stating what the evidence showed.
That said, there is still a question of whether there is a problem which voter ID is actually a solution for. The evidence on that is very thin and, of course, time and money spent on voter ID are resources that could have gone into other changes.
In addition, although the proportionate possible negative impact on turnout looks small, when you put those numbers into context, they are the sort of figures that would make a noticeable difference to overall turnout and, in close contests, to those who win. 5% of non-voters said the pilots made them less likely to vote and a further 3% they wouldn’t have been able to vote because they did not have any of the permissible documents to prove their identity. Those are small numbers, yet they are the sorts of numbers that could make a difference of a few percentage points to turnout overall.
That would be even more problematic if the effect is concentrated amongst particular groups of society. The desire to identify more clearly whether or not this is an issue is one of the reasons the Electoral Commission gives for holding more pilots next year.
May 2018 voter identification pilots evaluation reportMay-2018-voter-identification-pilots-evaluation-report-Electoral-Commission
Other research into the pilots
Following up on a 2015 survey, we conducted a survey of the staff managing polling stations across England, issuing ballot papers and sealing up ballot boxes at the 2018 local elections. We asked if they had suspicions that electoral fraud was taking place and whether party agents were acting within electoral law. We also asked if voters were turned away. The survey was circulated in 42 local authorities that were not piloting voter ID and there were 2,274 responses…
Suspected cases of electoral fraud – the problem that voter identification is designed to eradicate – are exceptionally rare. Nearly all (99%) of respondents didn’t suspect that fraud had taken place in their polling station. Those that did, often implied that it might have been through administrative error rather than deliberate manipulation…
The Electoral Commission and the government have deemed the pilots to be a success on the basis that it tightened up a security loophole. Indeed, most poll workers, responding to the Electoral Commission survey, stated that it improved security. However, it is notable that the percentage of poll workers who had suspected cases of electoral fraud in the areas that piloted voter ID, was exactly the same as those that did not. In both cases, it was just 1%. Further analysis will follow, but voter ID requirements simply don’t seem to be reducing cases of electoral fraud, presumably because they are so few and far between.
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