Postal votes one way to minimise the damage from the UK’s draconian Voter ID law

This General Election will be the first in Scotland where voters are required to show photo ID - unless they apply for a postal vote. Many commentators have warned that it will reduce voter turnout. It could affect tens of thousands of Scots. 

Voter turnout was lower than usual in this month’s English local elections. In the London mayoral race. it was 1.5% down on the 2.5 million votes from 2021 - that amounts to almost 40,000 people who didn’t get their say. There is no other obvious cause of this discrepancy and it is likely that the new rules have depressed turnout.

The vote size in the last General Election in Scotland was about the same so this suggests that the new rules could be a serious issue in the general election.  

Voters turned away at local elections

The case of Adam Driver, a decorated army veteran who was turned away after trying to use his veterans’ ID made the headlines. So did former Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he forgot to bring his photo ID and was turned away. He was able to go home and get something but not everyone was able to do that. 

The Electoral Reform Society reported that many people didn’t go to the polls at all because they didn’t know if their paperwork was acceptable and didn’t want the embarrassment of being turned away. 

People with dual nationality complained that polling station staff refused ID that was supposed to be acceptable like driving licences issued by an EU state. People with NHS ID and Police ID were also turned away.  

Many seats at the General Election will be won or lost by narrow margins

Reduced turnout by even a couple of per cent can make a difference – for example according to research by Electoral Calculus, Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch could be held by the SNP with a majority of only seven votes. It was won by Stuart McDonald in 2019 with a majority of nearly 13,000 under old constituency boundaries. Polling suggests many seats in Scotland will be won or lost by a small margin - including most of the Conservatives’ seats.  

The independent Electoral Commission, the body tasked with regulating UK elections, released a statement after last year’s local elections, noting that: “the ID requirement posed a greater challenge for some groups in society”. Passports and driving licences cost money and a lot of people don't have them.

Postal Votes - a workaround for some

There is no need for photo ID with a postal vote, as your vote slip is your proof of ID because it is posted to your address. You will need to get a witness to sign the declaration of identity on the packet that the slip goes in. Your vote is still anonymous - it gets separated and placed in the ballot box by the elections team.  

Don’t be deterred by a confusing message

The deadline for applying for a postal vote is June 19. You can apply online. Don’t be deterred by the confusing message that comes up when you say you live in Scotland. The screen will say ‘You cannot apply for a Scottish election using this service’. 

Unionists, who regard general elections as Scottish as much as they are English, might find this remark particularly misleading. Many people at that point log off, concluding they will have to organise a paper form. But it actually just means you can’t apply online there for a Holyrood election. If you select ‘UK election’ in the menu below the message, you can continue with the process.  

You will have to put in your address, National Insurance number and upload a photograph of your signature and your face. If you have difficulty, ask for help at your local library or contact your local electoral office. 

The postal vote can either be returned in the Freepost envelope provided, hand-delivered to certain polling stations on July 4 or given to the elections team at your council. There is no need to present photo ID when handing it in.

Worries about postal vote fraud are largely unfounded but voters certainly should not give their postal votes to a political party to deliver for them.

Acceptable forms of ID that are applicable to most people to bring to the polling station to vote on the day are: a passport, driving licence, or an over-60 travel card. Scotland’s under-22 free travel pass also is on the list. Voters can also apply for a local authority voter ID card, again by filling in an online form. 

Scotland needs independence to make voting fair 

The UK now has some of the most restrictive voter requirements in the world - stronger than US states which have been accused of voter suppression. The new law introduced by Westminster was not necessary - cases of voter impersonation in UK elections are rare.

Scotland controls the voting requirements for Holyrood elections so voter ID won’t be required then. But when it comes to voting for Westminster, the Scottish government was not consulted. Voter ID, like many policies,  was imposed on Scotland by a government Scotland did not elect.  

Only with independence can Scotland make sure that elections continue to be open to all of the population, without unnecessary barriers being placed in the way of people who want to exercise their democratic rights. 

Find more info about registering to vote here.