Government Quietly Unveils Plans To Extend Voter ID Laws Despite 'Gerrymandering'

Signs provide assistance with voter ID in Norwich.
Signs provide assistance with voter ID in Norwich.

Signs provide assistance with voter ID in Norwich.

Rishi Sunak’s government has unveiled plans to extend controversial voter ID laws despite a former Tory cabinet minister suggesting the policy was an attempt at “gerrymandering” to benefit his party.

Voters were required for the first time at the local elections on May 4 to show photo ID in order to collect their ballot paper – a move critics feared would deter more marginalised communities from voting.

Data collected by the BBC suggested thousands were denied ballot papers at polling stations and did not return.

Last week, ex-minister Jacob Rees-Moggtold the National Conservatism conference: “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections.”

The local elections were a disaster for the Tories as they lost more than 1,000 seats, which was beyond their worst expectations.

On Tuesday, the governme published a written ministerial statement – to little fanfare – announcing new provisions to the Elections Act that brought in the voter ID rules.

The government is now planning ID checks for postal and proxy votes in future elections, and will also make people re-apply for postal votes every three years.

London mayor Sadiq Khan hit out at the Tories for having “no shame”, and said “even more young people and minorities lose their vote”.

The statement said:

“To further strengthen the security of the ballot, an identity check will be introduced for all applications for an absent vote. This change will apply to applications made on paper and online and bring the absent vote application process in line with the Individual Electoral Registration ‘Register to Vote’ process. This change accompanies a new requirement to reapply for a postal vote at least every three years, replacing the current five-year signature and date of birth refresh.”

In the statement, levelling up minister Dehanna Davison wrote: “The changes set out in these regulations deliver on our manifesto commitment to protect the integrity of our democracy.

“It is paramount that we preserve trust in our electoral processes and ensure elections remain secure well into the future.”

She said the new measures were “appropriate safeguards to reduce the opportunity for individuals to exploit the absent voting process and steal votes”.

In response, London mayor Khan tweeted: “The Tories have no shame. As Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted, voter ID changes are an attempt to rig elections in the Tories’ favour. It’s outrageous, and will see even more young people and minorities lose their vote.”

An analysis of council data suggested thousands of people did not vote in this month’s local elections because they lacked the correct ID.

The BBC collated data from 160 of the 230 councils in England that held votes on May 4 shows 26,165 voters were initially denied ballot papers at polling stations.

Of these, 9,577 did not return, while 16,588 people came back with valid ID.

Following the elections on May 4, the Electoral Commission acknowledged that some people had been unable to vote due to a lack of ID, but it remains unclear how many were turned away and whether they were predominantly older or younger voters.

The Electoral Commission has said it will publish an initial analysis on the impact of voter ID in June ahead of a full report in September.