Skip to main content

Committee Corridor: Voter ID

14 July 2023

As voters prepare to cast their vote in next week’s parliamentary by-elections, the select committee podcast, Committee Corridor, reviews the rollout of Voter ID in May’s local elections and considers the challenges of a future General Election. 


Host Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee, speaks to Dr John Ault, Director of Democracy Volunteers, followed by Clive Betts MP and William Wragg MP, the Chairs of two select committees which have been tracking the progress of changes to electoral law. 

Democracy Volunteers observes elections and reports its findings to improve the quality of elections.  The team fielded more than 150 observers in May’s elections at more than half of councils where elections were held.  

The UK has been an ‘international outlier’ in not having an identity requirement to vote, Dr John Ault, tells Catherine McKinnell. 

“I think the advantages of ID are ones that haven't been discussed, which is they bring us in line with international standards. There can be no problem if you have a national ID system showing your ID to vote, but that's where the problem lies, is that lots of people don't have ID, don't necessarily at this point, know they require it.” 

“Unlike all those countries like France, Spain, Germany, countries in the EU, the UK doesn't have a national ID system. So, the ability to implement a policy is much more complicated,” he says.  

“In practice, it's not as deliverable as people think it is. It isn't just like flicking a switch in a polling station and people will behave differently.” 

Dr Ault believes that because local elections tend to have a lower turn-out than General Elections, the real challenge lies ahead in what he calls the ‘destruction test” of whether people think Voter ID works or not.  

“If we see lots of people turned away or more concerningly, its results challenged by election petition because 500 people are turned away in a constituency, the result was a majority of 50, I think that's when you might actually see people question this a bit more openly.” 


The 2022 Elections Act has brought a change of direction for electoral services, says Clive Betts MP, the Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, making it more complex. 

“The whole effort before had been, let's get more people to vote. And now, it seems to be ‘wait a minute, you can't vote because you haven't got this piece of paper.’”  

The Committee is investigating the current system of voter registration in the UK. “The really big challenge in our electoral system is not the two or three people a year who get prosecuted for voter fraud, but the eight million people who could be registered to vote and aren't even registered. That to me is a big challenge, and I think there, we have got a lot to learn from other countries.” 

In 2021, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee called for the Government to stop the passage of the Elections Bill which introduced the requirement to show photographic ID to vote at polling stations.  

Its Chair, William Wragg, agrees that the low turn-out cannot be taken as a fair test of electoral processes: “It can't be seen as a trial run if at the next general election, you get those people who turn out every four or five years for a general election who haven't been through this process. They haven't been through this trial.” 

His Committee will continue to call for a consolidation of electoral law. “It’s spread all over the place, and frankly, quite often, it’s volunteers who are involved in politics. It’s not always professional agents,” he says.  

“I think there's a need for it to be easier to navigate. And I think that can only be achieved by legislation that consolidates the rather confused picture that there is at the moment of electoral law. So, I think as a committee, we'll be continuing to reiterate that point.” 

Further information

Image: Tim West/UK Parliament