Voter ID pilots an important first test of policy, finds independent evaluation

Voter information

The voter identification trials run at May’s local elections worked well, the Electoral Commission has found in its statutory evaluation of the pilots. The evaluation also provides important initial evidence about how the policy might work in practice.

The watchdog’s statutory evaluation of the pilots found little evidence of a negative impact on voters, with few deterred by the need to show identification. The evaluation also found evidence that the trial may have had a positive impact on voters’ perception of fraud. The pilots 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 to show some forms of ID.

The Commission’s overall report, taking into consideration the findings from all five voter identification schemes, makes recommendations to inform the UK Government’s development of future pilots. This includes encouraging a wider range of local authorities to run pilot schemes in 2019 with a mixture of rural and urban areas, and areas with different demographic profiles.

Craig Westwood, Director of Communications and Research at the Electoral Commission, said:

The fact that nearly nine in ten polling station voters knew about the identification requirements beforehand is testimony to the hard work put in by the local authorities involved. From the experience of voters to the staff delivering the pilots, the overall picture from these pilots is a positive one.

The next step should be to test the requirement for voter identification in areas with different demographics. It will be important to develop the evidence base about the impact of voter identification on different groups of people. No eligible elector should be prevented from voting because of voter identification requirements.

The pilot schemes held in May were set up by the UK Government under the Representation of the People Act 2000 and were run by five different local authorities. The law requires the Electoral Commission to evaluate and report on any pilot scheme, including on the scheme’s ‘success or otherwise in facilitating…voting at the elections in question’.

Key findings from the pilot areas:

  • 0.6% of people tried 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.

The Commission collected information from different sources as part of its evaluation including: a survey asking people what they thought of the schemes; a survey of people who worked in polling stations; data about what identification people showed when they voted and the number of people who were turned away because they didn’t have the right identification; and feedback from organisations that represent different groups of voters.

The report, ‘May 2018 voter identification schemes: Findings and recommendations’ is available on our website.

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office:

    Extra notes

    Notes to editors

    • The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. It works to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:
      • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
      • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
      • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency

      The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

    • Five local councils were selected to run voter identification schemes at polling stations at their elections on Thursday 3 May 2018: Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford, and Woking. The pilot schemes held in May were set up by the UK Government under the Representation of the People Act 2000.