Discrimination / Voter ID
How does the new voter ID law affect my rights?
Why do I need a photo ID to vote now?
On 28 April 2022 the UK Parliament passed the Elections Act 2022, introducing voter identification for in-person voting to Great Britain for the first time. This requires voters in Great Britain to show a form of photographic identification (‘photo ID’) before being given their ballot paper in polling stations in certain elections.
Once you arrive at the polling station, you will be asked to show your ID. They will check that it’s accepted, and that it looks like you. A private area will be available should you choose to have your photo ID viewed in private. This might be a separate room, or an area separated by a privacy screen, depending on the polling station.
When will I need to show photo ID?
From 4 May 2023, voters will need to show photo ID to vote in:
- UK parliamentary by-elections and recall petitions
- UK Parliament general elections
- Local elections and referendums in England
- Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales
The new requirement will not apply at Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd, or council elections taking place in Scotland or Wales.
What ID can I use to vote?
You can use any of the following accepted forms of photo ID when voting at a polling station, including (but not limited to):
- Passport issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, a British Overseas Territory, an EEA state, or a Commonwealth country
- A photo driving licence issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or an EEA state (including a provisional driving licence)
- A Blue Badge
- Older Person’s Bus Pass
- Disabled Person’s Bus Pass
- Freedom Pass
- Identity card bearing the Proof of Age Standards Scheme hologram (a PASS card)
- Biometric immigration document
- Ministry of Defence Form 90 (Defence Identity Card)
- National identity card issued by an EEA state
- Anonymous Elector’s Document
You can find the full list of accepted forms of photo ID here. If your photo ID is out of date, you can still use it as long as it looks like you.
What’s a Voter Authority Certificate?
If you don’t have an accepted form of Voter ID, you can apply for a free voter ID document, known as a Voter Authority Certificate (VAC). This is also available if you’re not sure whether your photo ID still looks like you, or if you’re worried about showing your photo ID for another reason (e.g. you disagree with the use of a gender marker, as the VAC doesn’t record your gender).
How do I apply for a Voter Authority Certificate if I want one?
The Voter Authority Certificate service was launched on 16 January 2023. You can apply for one online or by post. The Electoral Commission has provided advice on applying for a Voter Authority Certificate on its website. Although Voter Authority Certificates do not have an expiration date, it’s recommended that you renew your certificate after 10 years.
You need to register to vote before applying for a Voter Authority Certificate. If you apply for a Voter Authority Certificate too close to polling day, you may be issued with a temporary Voter Authority Certificate that is only valid for that specific election, referendum, or recall petition.
What if I am voting by post or proxy?
You will not need to provide photo ID or a Voter Authority Certificate, to vote by post. There are other identification checks, including verification of your signature and date of birth.
You can also vote by proxy. This means someone else casts your vote for you. If you decide to do this, the person you choose to vote on your behalf will need to show their own photo ID to cast your vote. Your ID will not need to be shown.
What are Anonymous Elector Documents?
If you’re already registered to vote anonymously and want to vote in person, you’ll need to apply for an Anonymous Elector’s Document which you can then show as a form of photo ID when you go to vote. This is a document containing your elector number and photograph, following verification of your identity.
If you are voting this way, you will also need to produce your poll card when voting in person.
You can find out more about making an application for an Anonymous Elector’s Document here.
How might Voter IDs impact marginalised communities?
The Elections Act will undoubtedly stop people voting if they don’t have relevant photo ID with them. However, this impact is not going to be felt equally. People from communities that are already marginalised and under-represented by our political system are less likely to have relevant photo ID. Therefore, more members of these groups will be unable to vote under the Act.
For example, research shows that more disadvantaged groups are less likely to have photo ID. The Government’s own commissioned research found that those with severely limiting disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID. According to academic research presented to the House of Commons, these changes may result in 1.1 million fewer voters at the next general election due to the photo ID requirement.
The introduction of Voter Authority Certificates may not solve the problem of marginalised groups not having photo ID. This is because it is exactly those people do not possess photo ID who would be least likely to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate. Cabinet Office research has found that 42% of respondents with no photo ID said that they would be unlikely or very unlikely to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate. In addition, 37% of respondents with non-recognisable photo ID said the same. There can be many factors which stop certain groups from having other forms of ID, and it seems likely that these same factors might also stop them from getting VACs. This amounts to hundreds of thousands of registered, eligible voters who would be left without the means to vote at a polling station.
How does the new Voter ID requirement affect my rights?
Right to vote
The new Voter ID requirement might impact your ability to vote in future elections and referendums if you find it difficult to obtain a valid form of photo ID. Everybody should have the right to vote in a healthy democracy, irrespective of political leaning or background. The right to vote is fundamental and is enshrined in legislation and many international human rights treaties, such as Article 3 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As the ECHR is not a product of the European Union, the rights enshrined within it are still applicable after Brexit.
Any restrictions on the right to vote must be justified, proportionate, and non-discriminatory. Restrictions must be exercised in a manner that is free, transparent, and respects the principles of pluralism, equality, and democracy. If the Government’s actions are ever found to be disproportionate, it risks breaching human rights.
Another concern relates to the potential for the new Voter ID requirements to perpetuate discrimination and bias. This is because the new system will largely rely on government-issued identification documents, which may themselves be subject to bias and discrimination. As mentioned above, marginalised communities are much less likely to have relevant photo ID, and may find it difficult or costly to obtain it.
Government figures show that 76% of white people hold a full driving licence, whereas this figure is 53% for black people. In addition, although the list of accepted forms of photo ID includes bus passes or travel cards available to older persons, it does not include those available for younger persons. This will make it more difficult for these groups to vote.
If a law requires a specific form of ID that is difficult or costly for certain groups of individuals to obtain, it could be seen as discriminatory. The right to vote also includes the right to equal access to the ballot box, without discrimination in relation to race, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other factor. The new requirements might discriminate against younger people and ethnic minorities, who are less likely to have a valid form of photo ID. This could violate their right to equal access to vote and their right to be free from discrimination.
Data protection and privacy
To implement Voter IDs, the Government will need to collect and process a significant amount of personal data from voters, including your name, address, and date of birth. The Government have stated that all data you provide when applying for a Voter Authority Certificate will be stored securely, by your local council, in line with data protection regulations. However, the use of Voter IDs can raise concerns about data protection law, particularly in relation to the collection, use, and storage of personal data.
Under the UK’s data protection laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018, organisations that process personal data must do so in a manner that is fair, transparent, and lawful. This means that voters must be informed about how your personal data will be collected, used, and stored. Your rights to access and control your personal data must also be respected. The Information Commissioner’s Office has very useful information about your data rights available here.
One potential breach of data protection law that could arise from the use of Voter IDs is the risk of data breaches or unauthorised access to personal data. If personal data is not properly secured, it could be vulnerable to hacking, theft, or other forms of unauthorised access, which could result in identity theft or other forms of harm to individuals.
Another concern is that the collection and use of personal data in Voter ID systems could be used to create a database of voters that could be used for other purposes, such as targeted advertising or political campaigning. This could potentially infringe on voters’ right to privacy and the protection of their personal data.
What are my rights on this?
Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them
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