The Electoral Commission

The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK

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May 2018 voter identification pilot schemes

Read the May 2018 voter identification pilot schemes report in full (PDF).

Our findings

Overall, the voter identification requirements trialled in May 2018 worked well. Nearly everyone in the five pilot scheme areas who went to vote in their polling station was able to show identification without difficulty. The number of people who did not vote because they couldn’t show identification was very small.

People in the areas where the pilot schemes took place were significantly less likely to think that electoral fraud took place than people in other areas with elections in May 2018. Returning Officers and their staff in polling stations were able to run the new processes well and without any significant problems.

These pilot schemes have provided useful and important initial evidence about how a voter identification requirement in Great Britain might work in practice. They have also highlighted areas where further work is needed, because there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns and answer questions about the impact of identification requirements on voters.

The authorities in England that took part in the 2018 pilot schemes were not sufficiently varied to be representative of the different areas and groups of people across the rest of Great Britain. This means that we can’t be sure whether people in other areas would have problems showing identification.

We also know from previous analysis and feedback from other organisations such as Mencap and RNIB that some groups of people may find it harder than others to show a passport, driving licence or travel card as part of a photo identification scheme. We have some limited evidence from these pilots that younger people and those who don’t always vote were less likely to say that they would find it easy to show identification. More work is needed to make sure these people can easily get the right kind of identification to be able to vote.

When the UK Government invited local councils to run pilot schemes in May 2018, it also said that it was open to looking at piloting in future elections. We agree that it would be helpful to collect more evidence from further pilot schemes at elections in 2019.

These pilots have shown that there may be several different ways of delivering a voter identification scheme in Great Britain. The UK Government should now focus on what further evidence they need to answer questions and address concerns about the more detailed impact of a voter identification requirement, and how the design of future pilot schemes will help to provide that evidence.

We have identified some important lessons from the 2018 pilot schemes in this report and made recommendations for further work and future pilot schemes. These recommendations would help provide the best possible evidence base for any decisions about identification requirements for voters at polling stations in Great Britain.

Our main recommendation is that the UK Government should encourage a wider range of local councils to run pilot schemes in May 2019. These should include a mixture of rural areas and large urban areas, and areas with different demographic profiles. This would help make sure there is more detailed evidence about the impact of voter identification on different groups of people.

Our recommendations

  • The UK Government should ensure that a wider range of local councils run pilot schemes in May 2019.
  • The UK Government should set out more specifically how pilot schemes in May 2019 should be designed and run.
  • The UK Government and Returning Officers should work with 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.
  • Future pilot schemes should continue to include options for people who don’t have any of the required forms of identification.
  • The UK Government should carry out further work to identify what kinds of alternative identification are available for people who would find it harder to show their passport, driving licence or travel pass, particularly people with protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act.
  • The UK Government should carry out further work to gather more evidence on the levels of identity assurance provided by different types of documents.
  • The UK Government should carry out further work to establish whether poll cards could be included as acceptable identification without needing scanning technology in polling stations.

Bromley voter identification pilot scheme evaluation

In the Bromley voter identification pilot, voters were required to show one form of photographic identification or two forms of non-photographic identification (one of which needed to include the full registered address of the elector) in order to be given a ballot paper. We found that:
  • The majority of voters were able to meet the identification requirements upon arriving at the polling station. However, some electors did not have the required ID available when they came to vote on 3 May. The majority later returned and were able to cast a vote.
  • There is no evidence that the ID requirement significantly deterred electors from voting. In our public opinion survey only one respondent told us that they had not voted as a result of the ID requirement. Also, turnout at the 2018 polls was similar to the comparable elections in 2014.
  • We cannot draw firm conclusions about whether the ID requirement had a disproportionate impact on particular groups of people, for example those with a learning or physical disability. While we have seen no evidence that specific groups struggled with the ID requirement it is challenging to gather evidence in this area as relatively small groups of people could have been affected in different ways..
  • The delivery of this pilot was manageable for the Returning Officer and their staff and there is nothing in their experience of the pilot to suggest that Bromley would face significant issues with the administration of a similar ID requirement in the future. Additional staffing and training were in place for the pilot. However the Returning Officer has indicated that the extra staff would not necessarily be required to deliver this type of ID requirement at future local elections.
  • Public attitudes to electoral fraud improved from before to after the pilot. More people said that electoral fraud is not a problem in Bromley in May 2018 than did so in January 2018. However, we cannot definitively link this change to the pilot.

Our findings suggest that the 2018 local elections in Bromley were not significantly affected by the voter ID pilot in either its impact on voters or on the administration of the poll. However, it is important to be cautious when drawing conclusions from this pilot about the impact of any wider application of voter ID.

Read the Bromley report in full (PDF).

Gosport voter identification pilot scheme evaluation

The voter identification pilot scheme in Gosport required voters to produce one form of photographic identification or two forms of non-photographic identification (one of which must have shown the full registered address of the elector) or an electoral identity letter in order to meet the requirements to vote. Our evaluation of the scheme found that:
  • The majority of voters were able to meet the identification requirements upon arriving at the polling station. However, some electors did not have the required ID available when they came to vote on 3 May. The majority later returned and were able to cast a vote.
  • There is no evidence that the ID requirement significantly deterred electors from voting. In our public opinion surveys two non-voters told us that ID was the reason they had not voted. Also, turnout at the 2018 polls was similar to the comparable elections in 2016. It is possible that some electors were deterred from voting, believing correctly or incorrectly that they did not have ID, but this seems unlikely to apply to significant numbers.
  • We cannot draw firm conclusions about whether the ID requirement had a disproportionate impact on particular groups of people, for example those with a learning or physical disability. While we have seen no evidence that specific groups struggled with the ID requirement, it is challenging to gather evidence in this area as relatively small groups of people could have been affected in different ways.
  • The delivery of this pilot was manageable for the Returning Officer and their staff and there is nothing in their experience of the pilot to suggest that Gosport would face significant issues with the administration of a similar ID requirement in the future. Additional staffing and training were in place for the pilot. However, the Returning Officer has indicated that the extra staff would not be required to deliver this type of ID requirement at future local elections or those polls with higher turnout.
  • Public attitudes to electoral fraud did not significantly change from before to after the pilot. Slightly more people said they think electoral fraud is a problem in Gosport in May 2018 than did so in January 2018.

Our findings suggest that the 2018 local elections in Gosport were not significantly affected by the voter ID pilot in either its impact on voters or on the administration of the poll. However, it is important to be cautious when drawing conclusions from this pilot about the impact of any wider application of voter ID.

Read the Gosport report in full (PDF).

Swindon voter identification pilot scheme evaluation

The voter identification pilot scheme in Swindon required voters to produce their poll card in order to meet the requirement to vote. The poll card contained a QR code which was scanned in the polling station. If a voter did not bring their poll card they could show photo ID (from a specified list) or have their identity ‘attested’ by another elector (with ID) registered at the same polling station. Our evaluation of the scheme found that:
  • The majority of voters were able to meet the identification requirements upon arriving at the polling station. However, some electors did not have the required ID available when they came to vote on 3 May. The majority later returned and were able to cast a vote.
  • There is no evidence that the ID requirement deterred electors from voting. In our public opinion surveys no non-voter told us that ID was the reason they had not voted. Also, turnout at the 2018 polls was higher than the comparable elections in 2016. It is possible that some electors were deterred from voting, believing correctly or incorrectly that they did not have ID, but this seems unlikely to apply to significant numbers.
  • We cannot draw firm conclusions about whether the ID requirement had a disproportionate impact on particular groups of people, for example those with a learning or physical disability. While we have seen no evidence that specific groups struggled with the ID requirement it is challenging to gather evidence in this area as relatively small groups of people could have been affected in different ways.
  • The delivery of this pilot was manageable for the Returning Officer and their staff and, aside from the IT element, there is nothing in their experience of the pilot to suggest that Swindon would face significant issues with the administration of a similar ID requirement in the future. While the IT worked well on 3 May the development and set up was a significant demand on time and resource.
  • Public attitudes to electoral fraud did not significantly change from before to after the pilot. The same proportion of people said they think electoral fraud is a problem in Swindon in May 2018 as did so in January 2018.

Our findings suggest that the 2018 local elections in Swindon were not significantly affected by the voter ID pilot in either its impact on voters or on the administration of the poll. However, it is important to be cautious when drawing conclusions from this pilot about the impact of any wider application of voter ID.

Read the Swindon report in full (PDF).

Watford voter identification pilot scheme evaluation

The voter identification pilot scheme in Watford required voters to produce their poll card in order to meet the requirement to vote. The poll card contained a QR code which was scanned in the polling station. If a voter did not bring their poll card they could show photo ID (from a specified list) or a valid debit/credit card. Our evaluation of the scheme found that:
  • The majority of voters were able to meet the identification requirements upon arriving at the polling station. However, some electors did not have the required ID available when they came to vote on 3 May. The majority later returned and were able to cast a vote.
  • There is no evidence that the ID requirement deterred electors from voting. In our public opinion survey no non-voter in Watford told us that ID was the reason they had not voted. 2018 turnout was higher than the comparable elections in 2016. It is possible that some electors were deterred from voting, believing correctly or incorrectly that they did not have ID, but this seems unlikely to apply to significant numbers.
  • We cannot draw firm conclusions about whether the ID requirement had a disproportionate impact on particular groups of people, for example those with a learning or physical disability. While we have seen no evidence that specific groups struggled with the ID requirement it is challenging to gather evidence in this area as relatively small groups of people could have been affected in different ways. A disproportionate number of those unable to show ID on 3 May were from electoral wards with higher proportions of people with an Asian background. However, this does not mean that electors from the Asian community were more likely to be affected by the ID requirement.
  • The delivery of this pilot was manageable for the Returning Officer and their staff and, aside from the IT element, there is nothing in their experience of the pilot to suggest that Watford would face significant issues with the administration of a similar ID requirement in the future. While the IT worked well on 3 May the development and set up was a significant demand on time and resource.
  • Some public attitudes to electoral fraud improved from before to after the pilot. Fewer people said they thought electoral fraud was a problem in May 2018 than in January 2018. However, we cannot definitively link this change to the pilot.

Our findings suggest that the 2018 local elections in Watford were not significantly affected by the voter ID pilot in either its impact on voters or on the administration of the poll. However, it is important to be cautious when drawing conclusions from this pilot about the impact of any wider application of voter ID.

Read the Watford report in full (PDF).

Woking voter identification pilot scheme evaluation

The voter identification pilot scheme in Woking required voters to produce one form of photographic identification or a Local Elector Card in order to meet the requirements to vote. Our evaluation of the scheme found that:
  • The majority of voters were able to meet the identification requirements upon arriving at the polling station. However, some electors did not have the required ID available when they came to vote on 3 May. The majority later returned and were able to cast a vote.
  • There is no evidence that the ID requirement significantly deterred electors from voting. In our public opinion surveys one non-voter told us that ID was the reason they had not voted. Also, turnout at the 2018 polls was similar to the comparable elections in 2014. It is possible that some electors were deterred from voting, believing correctly or incorrectly that they did not have ID, but this seems unlikely to apply to significant numbers.
  • We cannot draw firm conclusions about whether the ID requirement had a disproportionate impact on particular groups of people, for example those with a learning or physical disability. While we have seen no evidence that specific groups struggled with the ID requirement it is challenging to gather evidence in this area as relatively small groups of people could have been affected in different ways.
  • The delivery of this pilot was manageable for the Returning Officer and their staff and there is nothing in their experience of the pilot to suggest that Woking would face significant issues with the administration of a similar ID requirement in the future. Some additional staffing and training were in place for the pilot. However the Returning Officer has indicated that the extra staff would not necessarily be required to deliver this type of ID requirement at future local elections.
  • Some public attitudes to electoral fraud improved from before to after the pilot. Fewer people said they felt electoral fraud is a problem in Woking in May 2018 than did so in January 2018. However, we cannot definitively link this change to the pilot.

Our findings suggest that the 2018 local elections in Watford were not significantly affected by the voter ID pilot in either its impact on voters or on the administration of the poll. However, it is important to be cautious when drawing conclusions from this pilot about the impact of any wider application of voter ID.

Read the Woking report in full (PDF).

Postal and proxy voting pilot schemes

At the May 2018 elections the Returning Officers (ROs) for Peterborough, Slough and Tower Hamlets ran pilot schemes focused on postal voting.

The ROs sent information to postal voters about how to protect their vote. They then contacted a sample of postal voters, who had been sent postal voting packs, to check that they had applied for them. In Peterborough and Tower Hamlets, they also contacted a sample of postal voters, whose postal ballot had been returned, to check that they had completed and returned their own vote. Peterborough also ran a pilot scheme to require proxy voters at polling stations to show identification before issuing them with a ballot paper.

Impact of the pilot schemes

The pilots were well delivered by the three ROs but we have not been able to draw firm conclusions on the impact of these pilot schemes. This was partly because in some cases there was no relevant data from before the pilots to compare against, and also because we were not able to tell what would have happened this year without the pilot schemes.

Impact of the leaflet for postal voters

There is no clear evidence about the impact of the leaflet for postal voters, although it is reasonable to conclude that well-designed and carefully worded information is likely to help encourage people to report evidence about electoral fraud.

Impact of the follow-up contact with postal voters

Postal voters welcomed the follow-up contact from the RO and the telephone activity was largely manageable with some additional staff. However, the household visit approach, as used in Peterborough, required more resources than the RO would normally be able to commit around a poll. There is no clear evidence about the impact on allegations of fraud and public confidence, although it may have provided reassurance to some voters.

The follow-up contact provided the ROs with additional information about potential cases of electoral fraud. While they could use this information to raise specific concerns with the police, the activity did not directly lead to any allegations being referred to the police at these elections.

Finally, the pilot allowed for the cancellation of postal votes where the elector said they did not want a postal vote or claimed that they had not completed a returned postal vote. The ROs did not need to make significant use of this power (one postal vote was cancelled for this reason in Peterborough) but it is logical that they should have this option available to them as part of any follow up activity with postal voters.

Impact of the identification requirement for proxy voters

The identification requirement for proxy voters was administratively manageable, and there is limited evidence of a negative impact on voters.

Peterborough believe there may have been some effect in deterring fraudulent proxy activity as the number of proxies was notably lower than in recent polls. However, it is not possible to draw a clear conclusion from the information available.

Impact on allegations of fraud

We have looked at data from police forces about allegations of electoral fraud in these three areas. They received a very small number of allegations about postal voting at the May 2018 elections. We cannot draw any firm conclusions from this limited data, particularly because we cannot know what would have happened in these areas without the pilot scheme procedures.

Read the postal and proxy voting pilot schemes report in full (PDF).

Electoral fraud