Skip to main content
CampaignsEqualityHousingEnvironmentGeneral ElectionSupport Our WorkFixing BritainMigrationEducationRaceCultureWorkGlobal

Explainer: Why do you need Voter ID in the local election?

The Tories' reasons for changing how we vote don't add up - even if you try to take their excuses at face value. 

April 29 2023, 10.37am

Why does the government say we need mandatory voter ID laws? 

To combat voter fraud by impersonation. “In our current electoral system, there is inexcusable potential for someone to cast another’s vote at the polling station,” the Government’s site explains

‘Inexcusable potential’, eh? How big of an actual problem is voter impersonation? 

It’s microscopic. The two most general elections in the UK, in 2019 and 2017, saw just ONE case each of voter fraud of the kind that could have been prevented by these laws. Between 2010 and 2016, two general elections and the Brexit referendum, saw SEVEN such cases - not each or on average: seven in total. Not a single UK election has ever been swayed by impersonation fraud. 

So why are the Tories so keen on Voter ID? 

Why, indeed. Their official excuse - voter impersonation - doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. They haven’t offered up other explanations, at least not openly.  

Sounds like Voter ID doesn’t solve any real-life problems. Does it create any? 

Yes. Big ones. There are several types of ID usable under the law, primarily drivers’ licences and passports. These are documents that some groups are less likely to have than others. For instance, 27% of black people in the UK have a driver’s licence, as compared to 47% of white people. It’s also a matter of health and socioeconomic status: Government research says people with disabilities, people who are unemployed, people without qualifications are all less likely to have recognizable photo ID. 

Sounds like the people least likely to have ID are the people least likely to vote for the incumbent government. 

Yes, with one exception: many older people, including Tory voters, also don’t have valid driving licences or passports. So this might end up damaging some Tory candidates too. 

Passports take ages, and getting a driver licence is expensive. Are there other options? 

Yes, you can apply for a special Voter Certificate up to a week before an election. Around 2,000,000 people in the UK were eligible for one ahead of the local election on May 4th, 2023. You just need to be sufficiently eager to vote in this particular election to free up time in your day to fill up a bunch of government forms. You also need to have a decent smartphone or computer, and reasonable trust and confidence in the system. 

So out of 2,000,000, how many applied? 


That’s less than 3%. 


So over 1.9 million people, many of whom are not, shall we say, stereotypical Tory voters, will not be able to vote in the local elections. 


Will they be able to vote in the next general election? 

If they register in time, sure. But there’s no reason to assume the next registration drive will be any more successful than the first.

What did the Tories have to say about this? 

Mostly, they’ve muddied the waters. When pressed, one under-briefed Tory minister launched into a rant about the sanctity of the ballot box, but declined to say whether any records will be kept of how many people are turned away. At the same time, Tory election leaflets were reported to feature the false information that you do NOT need Photo ID to vote. Anyone who takes it at face value will be turned away. 

Did they say anything more coherent? 

Not really, although the Spectator’s preview of the mayoral race in London did feature an unnamed Conservative joking that thanks to Photo ID, “Tower Hamlets will be voting Conservative for the first time.” Draw your own conclusions. 

So what can we do? 

Remind everyone you know to bring photo ID to the polls on Tuesday. For the next elections,  register for a Photo ID if you don’t have one.

Beyond that, the fight shifts to the General Election of 2024. The government has mostly been emboldened by the public’s relative indifference. The first step to putting them on the backfoot is signalling that the game is up. Sign our petition, for a start. Vote for any opposition party that promises to scrap Voter ID - so far it’s just the Libdems, but this is your chance to write to your MP from a different party and urge them to commit. And stay tuned with us for more campaigns and direct action.