Evaluation of Voter ID scheme Pilots

Last Thursday 19th July, the Electoral Commission reported on the outcomes of ID pilots carried out on voters during the May local elections in five districts (Bromley, Woking, Gosport, Watford and Swindon). The need to ask voters for more ID was obstensively to limit potential voter’s fraud. However, none of the areas looked at had any great history of fraudulent activity – and indeed, the absence voting fraud generally across the UK in elections is a common feature. Voice4Change England and a handful of MPs and Third Sector orgs were summoned to parliament to hear from the Commission their findings of the trial exercise.
The Commission concluded that the pilots worked well and had provided useful information on how the Voters ID process might work in practice. Overall though they were at pains to point out that no conclusions could be reached as to the negative impact on voter’s turnout or whether it had been effective in rooting out fraud due to the small size of the voter’s sample. 0.6 % of people wanted to vote without the right ID. Of these some went and returned with the right ID. However, 0.2% of all voters did not return. 79% of people said the requirements made no difference to their voting. Of course, that left, disturbingly for such a small number, 21% who said it did!
The Commission “stated its “evaluation identified several areas where further work is required, where evidence was 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 than others to show certain types of identification.”. An interesting statement, but the response that still doesn’t explain the clear objectives behind the harvesting of such negligible results.
On the eve of the May local election earlier this year Voice4Change along with several civil society organisations expressed concerns that the introduction of the pilots was unnecessary and Voice4Change having worked with the government to improve the participation of BME communities in elections Director Kunle Olulode, was quoted in the Sunday Observer stating:
“We feel strongly that this type of policy will not only have minimal impact on the miniscule level of voting fraud but will create potentially new and unnecessary barriers to participation in the electoral process if people become uncertain of requirements when they turn up at polling stations, further impacting negatively on registrations. Asking for voters IDs as a policy certainly has echoes of the strategy aimed at making society an uncomfortable place for illegal migrants.” (The Observer Sunday 22 April)
So, to sum up. The pilots proved to be inconclusive in detecting voter fraud as problem in itself. As mentioned previously, It has not really been of significance in any of the areas under scrutiny, or in the elections generally. One might conclude that the trial exercise be abandoned? However, it’s far from the end of the matter. Amongst the follow up ideas proposed the Commission they recommend a second set of pilots in 2019 over a larger sample base and to work with others to carry out a more robust equality impact assessment for future pilots. It is also being suggested that consideration be given to the presentation of polling cards without the need for digital scanning technology.
In a recently in an unintended twist, questions have emerged as the legal status of the pilots because it was incorrectly imposed by ministerial diktat rather than moved through parliament, senior barristers from Blackstone, a leading chamber in London, has determined that ministers acted outside the scope of the law in ordering the pilots in the five boroughs in England. Hence the possibility of a judicial review at some point in the very near future is still a distinct possibility.
Kunle Olulode