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Voter ID requirements should be made more accessible ahead of elections

19 December 2023

The Constitution Committee publishes a letter to Simon Hoare MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Local Government), Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.


Access to voting is an important constitutional principle and every effort should be made to enable all those who wish to vote to do so.

A new requirement for voters to present photographic ID was introduced by the Elections Act 2022 as part of the Government’s Electoral Integrity Programme. The requirement was first applied at the May 2023 local elections in England and has since been used for parliamentary by-elections and recall petitions in England and Scotland. The Committee’s inquiry considered the implementation of voter ID in those elections in order to learn lessons ahead of future elections, including the next general election, which must take place by January 2025.

One of the primary objectives of the Electoral Integrity Programme is to enhance engagement in UK democracy. Despite this commendable objective, evidence received by the Committee during its recent inquiry suggested that the new voter ID requirement affected some demographic groups’ propensity or opportunity to vote.

Key findings

The Committee notes that, while voter ID may work for most people, it has negatively affected some demographic groups’ propensity or opportunity to vote.

This is in part due to a lack of awareness about the voter ID requirement and the availability of the Voter Authority Certificate—a means for those without another form of accepted ID to exercise their right to vote. This includes certain demographic groups that were already less likely to vote.

Fully funded local, tailored engagement campaigns targeting those demographic groups is essential. If they are to be successful, these campaigns must raise awareness of the availability of Voter Authority Certificates, including the process for applying and the fact that they are free of charge. This is particularly important given the particular weight the Government has attributed to the Voter Authority Certificate as a means of facilitating access to voting for those without an accepted form of ID.

Awareness-raising about voter ID through campaigns must be sustained until the requirement becomes ‘business as usual’ in the minds of voters across Great Britain. This is particularly important in the lead up to the next general election where the geographical target for these campaigns will include all of England, Scotland and Wales-including many areas which have not previously held elections for which ID was required.

According to the Government, approximately four per cent of people currently eligible to vote do not own a form of ID which would allow them to vote. Electoral Commission research indicates that those renting from a social landlord, the unemployed, lower social grades, the over-85s and disabled people are less likely to have one of the accepted forms of ID. They found that people with disabilities such as visual impairment or learning disabilities, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, people living in refuges, people experiencing homelessness and the trans community had “multiple and compounding barriers” to engaging with the voter ID policy, including lower levels of ownership of ID.

The Committee therefore, while welcoming the Government’s review of accepted forms of ID, urged it also to consider the benefits of adding additional forms of ID to the list which are widely available, such as rail passes. Attestation (or “vouching”, in which a holder of valid ID vouches for the identity of another voter) has been recommended as an additional means by which for voters to prove their identity at the polling station. The Committee considers this a potentially valuable means by which to make voting accessible for members of the electorate who do not own an accepted form of photo identification and are unable to obtain a Voter Authority Certificate.

The current deadline for Voter Authority Certificate applications is six working days before polling day. The letter welcomes the Government’s commitment to exploring the possibility of digitising Voter Authority Certificates in the future—this might reduce the time needed to print and post certificates and allow the deadline to be brought closer to polling day. The committee urges the Government to introduce legislation allowing for digital Voter Authority Certificates as soon as practicably possible, while ensuring the necessary security measures are in place to prevent fraud.

‘New burdens’ funding and the availability of ‘justification-led bids’ to local authorities implementing voter ID is welcome, but that these funds must not be limited to initial costs. The Committee recommends that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities maintains funding for future costs associated with voter ID. The decision to introduce multiple changes to the electoral system simultaneously or in quick succession has placed a significant burden on a system with limited resilience and has introduced increased risk to the successful delivery of elections. Scheduling the next general election ahead of the May 2024 local elections or combining a general election with the local elections could exacerbate this risk.

Chair’s comments

Baroness Drake, Chair of the Constitution Committee said:

“Access to voting is an important constitutional principle and every effort should be made to enable all those who wish to vote to do so. Most of those eligible to vote at the May 2023 local elections were able to adhere to the voter ID policy and cast their vote. The evidence however, reveals that the propensity and opportunity to vote of particular demographic groups were more likely to be negatively impacted by the policy. The awareness of the availability of the Voter Authority Certificate for those without the requisite ID, a “foundation stone” of the voter ID policy, was unacceptably low.

“Local elections will take place in May 2024 for councils and mayors in England and Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales. It is conceivable that the next general election might also take place on the same day adding to the burdens and risks on an electoral system already under pressure. We are particularly concerned about the impact this would have on the administration of polls in Wales and areas of England that have no former experience administering the voter ID policy. In Wales voters will be expected to present voter ID for the general election but not for local elections, which risks causing further confusion.  

“The electoral sector operates under a concerning degree of strain, which has been exacerbated by the introduction of voter ID and other policies included in the Elections Act 2022. We urge the Government to explore means by which it can assist returning officers in ensuring they have adequate staff and resources available. 

“We look forward to hearing the Government’s response on our suggestions regarding the expansion of accepted forms of ID and making Voter Authority Certificates more easily accessible, as well as on its commitment to raising awareness about the voter ID rules ahead of upcoming elections. We would also like to encourage the Government to reconsider its decision on not making data collection on the impact of voter ID compulsory for local elections. Without this, it is difficult to present a clear picture of how voter ID is affecting our democracy”. 

Further information