Politics

Voter ID: Everything you need to know about how to vote in May’s elections, and the controversies

May's elections will be the first in England requiring photo ID. Here's what you need to know

voter ID uk

Anybody voting in May's elections will need a valid form of photo ID. Image: Cory Doctorow/flickr

May’s elections will be the first in England where voters are required to show photo ID at polling stations, thanks to new voter ID laws.

The controversial new measure means those without a form of photo ID will need to get their hands on some to vote. It has also led to warnings of disenfranchisement, as approximately two million voters don’t have the required ID.

It’s added a layer of confusion to the upcoming local elections in May, representing a big shift in the way English voters go to the polls. With barely a month to go, one in four voters still believe they don’t need ID to cast their ballots.

Here’s what you need to know about voter ID in the UK.

Why do we have voter ID?

Voter ID was a manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party in the 2019 election. This became the Elections Act, which passed into law on April 28 2022.

The new law will apply on May 4 to local elections, police and crime commissioner elections, parliamentary by-elections, and recall petitions. From October, it will also apply to UK-wide general elections.

It is new to England, but not across other parts of the UK and Europe. In Northern Ireland, voters have long had to produce photo ID at the polls, while the overwhelming majority of European countries have the same requirement.

However, its introduction has been incredibly controversial, with the Green Party peer Natalie Bennett branding it “voter suppression straight out of the American right’s playbook”.

Voter impersonation is incredibly rare. The 2019 election saw just 33 allegations, and one conviction.

Research commissioned by the government found nine per cent of people did not have “in-date and recognisable” photo ID. And certain groups were less likely to have photo ID, making them more at risk from the new measures.

Unemployed people, those with a severely limiting disability, and older people were all found to be less likely to hold a form of photo ID. 

“More than a quarter (27 per cent) of those with no photo ID, and just under a fifth (19 per cent) of those with only unrecognisable photo ID said that they would be less likely to vote if they needed to present photo ID,” the report’s authors found.

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Which forms of ID can you use?

There are a number of forms of ID you can use to vote, but it’s important to remember you’ll still need to register to vote separately. The deadline to do so is Monday April 17. You can register to vote here.

Here are the forms of ID accepted as voter ID, as compiled by the Electoral Reform Society:

What forms of voter ID work UK-wide?

  • UK passport
  • UK driving licence
  • A Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) card with the PASS hologram
  • Defence Identity Card (Ministry of Defence Form 90)
  • Biometric immigration document
  • Blue Badge scheme card

What voter ID works in England?

  • 60+ Oyster card
  • Freedom Pass or Disabled Person’s Freedom Pass
  • Older Person’s Bus Pass

What voter ID works in Scotland?

  • Scottish National Entitlement Card

What voter ID works in Wales?

  • Older Person’s Welsh Concessionary Travel Card
  • Disabled Person’s Welsh Concessionary Travel Card

What voter ID works in Northern Ireland?

  • Electoral Identity Card
  • Senior SmartPass
  • Registered Blind SmartPass
  • War Disablement SmartPass
  • 60+ SmartPass
  • Half Fare SmartPass

What other voter ID is eligible?

  • National identity card issued by an EEA state
  • Commonwealth or EEA passport
  • Isle of Man, Channel Islands, or EEA driving licence

You will need to bring the actual document, and not a photocopied version. Out of date photo IDs can still be used.

This list has prompted some concern, with many pointing out it contains several forms of ID for older people, but few for younger people. For example, railcards and student IDs are absent.

Some of the cards and passes also require a passport to obtain in the first place.

Can I use my NI number as ID?

Unfortunately, the answer is no, you cannot use your National Insurance number as voter ID.

You will need a valid form of voter ID, as detailed above, to vote in person.

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How to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate, the new free voter ID

If you do not have any of the accepted forms of ID, you can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate until 5pm on April 25. This special form of voting photo ID requires a good quality (think passport) digital photo.

You will also need either your National Insurance number or other documents (such as a birth certificate or utility bill) which can prove your identity.

As well as those who do not have ID on the list, it may also be useful for those who don’t look like their ID or who have a different name on the electoral register.

If you have changed your name from the name on your photo ID, the government’s advice is that you can re-register to vote, or take a document with proof of the name change.

What if I don’t have photo ID, or can’t get it in time for the election?

For those without photo ID, or unable to obtain it in time for the election, there are still ways you can access your democratic right.

You don’t need photo ID for a postal vote. You can apply here by 5pm on April 18.
You can also apply for a proxy vote, where somebody you trust goes to the polling station on your behalf. However, they will still need to show their ID. Applications are open until 5pm on April 26.

Campaigners have warned that voter ID laws could deprive marginalised people of their votes

The government says the new measures will protect the integrity of elections. But campaigners from marginalised groups have warned that May’s elections could see Brits losing the right to vote.

Trans people will be “hit hard” by the measures, as they often don’t have access to photo ID or the resources to acquire it, said Cleo Madeleine of Gendered Intelligence.

“Trans people may have driving licences with out-of-date names or gender markers, or with old photographs. As a demographic we also tend to be lower income and to suffer disproportionately from housing insecurity,” Madeleine said.

“The combination of these factors means that trans people are more likely to have no valid ID or to have their ID challenged, and simultaneously to not have the money or supporting documents to obtain new ID or update existing ones. This creates a vicious circle where trans people find it harder to participate in society; a situation that voter ID laws will only aggravate.”

Disabled people, too, could be disenfranchised by the Elections Act, warned Fazilet Hadi of Disability Rights UK.

“We are extremely concerned that new electoral laws will have negative consequences for disabled citizens seeking to exercise their vote,” said Hadi.

“The new provisions on the need to produce photo ID will put yet another barrier in the way of many disabled people trying to use their vote. Millions of disabled people will not have a driving licence or passport, will find applying for a free photo ID challenging or may not even have heard of the new requirements.”

Hadi added it was “not clear” that polling stations would all have the required equipment to make voting easier –- such as pen grips and tables at wheelchair height.

Elderly people, the least likely age demographic to hold voter ID, are also at risk. 

“We have previously warned that large numbers of older people don’t hold an accepted form of voter ID and highlighted the fact that many will struggle to access the application for a voter authority certificate. Over three million over 65s are not online, meaning a huge proportion will be unable to apply digitally,” Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told The Big Issue. 

There are fears too for Muslim women who wear face coverings, said a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain: “One such concern, for example, is whether any provisions currently exist for Muslim women who wear the niqab (face veil) that may enable them to readily cast their vote at the polling booth. 

“Without a clear, inclusive protocol in place at polling stations, veiled British Muslim women are set to be disenfranchised from casting their vote altogether.”

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