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Government to reject election challenges that cite voters’ lack of ID

Councils had warned that election results might be challenged if people are turned away from polling stations

Anita Mureithi
26 April 2023, 10.00pm

The local elections on 4 May will see voter ID laws used for the first time in England


Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Calls for election reruns if people are turned away from polling stations for not having valid photo ID will be rejected, the government has said.

In a letter to the Local Government Association (LGA) seen by openDemocracy, communities minister Lee Rowley wrote: “Someone being correctly turned away from the polling station for not having the appropriate photographic identification [...] is not a valid reason to challenge the outcome of an election.”

The LGA had written to Rowley, a Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) minister, with concerns about the upcoming elections – the first since voter ID laws were introduced.

Critics say the new laws will further disenfranchise marginalised groups, with the Electoral Reform Society labelling them a “barrier to democracy”.

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Last month a poll found one in four people did not know they needed photo ID to vote. The Electoral Commission has also confirmed that “greeters” stationed outside polling stations will not record how many people leave when reminded of the need for ID, meaning the true impact of the laws may not be known.

Rowley also met the LGA and its political group leaders in February to discuss challenges to results, as well as other issues including safety and security at polling stations and recognisability of voters' ID.

Minutes for the meeting, obtained by openDemocracy, state: “Members highlighted concerns [about] election petitions stemming from issues with voter ID and expressed concern about the pressure on [returning officers] and presiding officers in polling stations.”

Election petitions are used to challenge the result of an election if voters or candidates believe it wasn’t run properly.

According to the minutes, “civil servants explained that electoral petitions due to electors being legitimately turned away due to lack of approved ID would not be successful and that unfortunately, DLUHC cannot stop people making petitions”.

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In a follow-up letter sent after the meeting, also seen by openDemocracy, the LGA reiterated it was “not convinced that there are no circumstances where an election might be challenged due to voter ID issues”.

It added: “There are still substantial costs and resource implications to defending against petitions, whether or not the petitions are successful.”

The DLUHC said it had nothing to add on the matter when contacted by openDemocracy.

Earlier this week, Labour MP Clive Lewis warned the new laws will discourage Black and ethnic minority communities from voting. Trans, ethnic minority and disabled people have also been highlighted by MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) as being among the groups that will be most impacted.

openDemocracy has reported that a lack of awareness of the new rules, combined with a distrust of government, has led to misinformation on voter ID. This, campaigners say, could put people off trying to vote.

This week a Conservative campaign leaflet in Norwich sparked controversy for falsely informing people they don’t need to take any ID to vote.

Emma Corlett – a Labour councillor for Norfolk County Council – posted a photo of the leaflet, which states: "Polling stations are open 7am to 10pm. You don't need to take any ID in order to vote, so long as you are registered."

Have you seen any campaign material containing false claims about voter ID? Contact openDemocracy on [email protected]

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