Polling Station’ in front of a building

Polling Station’ in front of a building

Remember your ID!: The 2024 Police and Crime Commissioner elections and the introduction of voter ID

Published 23/04/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

The Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 2 May 2024 will be the first time that voters in Wales will need to show photographic ID at polling stations.

This article explores debate around the introduction of voter ID and considers potential impacts the policy may have.

What are Police and Crime Commissioners?

Established by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are elected by the public to hold police forces and Chief Constables in Wales and England to account. Their responsibilities include setting police budgets and engaging with communities to set police and crime plans and organise local projects.

One PCC is elected for each of Wales’ four police areas: North Wales, Dyfed Powys, Gwent, and South Wales.

More information on the background and role of PCCs can be found in our article.

What’s new at this election?

The Elections Act 2022 (the Act) introduced significant changes to elections in the UK. In Wales, it will only affect UK parliamentary and PCC elections.

PCCs were previously elected using the Supplementary Vote system, where voters could choose a first and second preference. The Act changed this so that PCCs will now be elected by First-Past-the-Post, the same system in place for elections to the House of Commons.

Another significant change introduced by the Act is the need to show photo ID when casting a ballot at a polling station.

Voters in Wales will have to show photo ID when voting in:

  • UK parliamentary elections, including general elections, by-elections and recall petitions; and
  • Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

The Electoral Commission lists accepted forms of photo ID on its website. Voters who don’t have an accepted form of ID can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate. The deadline to apply for a Certificate for this PCC election is 24 April.

Photo ID is not needed for Senedd or local elections in Wales.

Voter ID – a controversial issue

Following the publication of a report into electoral fraud, the UK Government took forward recommendations to pilot the introduction of voter ID.

It argued that data gathered from subsequent pilots during the local elections in England in May 2018 and 2019 “showed that the requirement to show identification increased voter confidence in the elections process”.

Former Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith MP, stated in 2019 that people of all backgrounds show ID every day, and that “proving who we are before we make a decision of huge importance at the ballot box should be no different”.

The Welsh Government opposed the introduction of voter ID, stating that it was

…concerned about potential unintended consequences such as voter and candidate confusion and complexity for administrators…

In November 2021, the Counsel General, Mick Antoniw MS, criticised the voter ID proposal:

…for which there is no evidential base and which clearly disadvantages those who are less likely to have the required forms of ID that will be imposed…

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) argued that the introduction of voter ID was a disproportionate response to historically very low reported levels of “personation fraud” – that is, “someone pretending to be someone else so they can use that person’s vote”.

The ERS also argued that the introduction could disproportionately impact certain groups of voters negatively, such as the unemployed, people with disabilities, and those without qualifications.

What impact has voter ID had in England?

Aside from the pilots, Voter ID was used for the first time in England at the May 2023 local elections.

The Electoral Commission’s report on the elections concludes that “some people found it harder than others to show accepted voter ID, including disabled people and the unemployed”.

It identifies two overlapping issues causing this, “the variations in ownership of accepted photo ID” and “awareness of the need to show ID when voting in person”. It argues that improvements should be made to “improve accessibility and support those people who do not have an accepted form of ID” ahead of future elections.

The Commission made five recommendations to the UK Government, including to review the list of accepted ID, improve access to Voter Authority Certificates, and to continue to collect data about the impact of voter ID.

As well as setting out its response to each recommendation, the UK Government published its own analysis of the local elections. It concluded that:

Overall, the introduction of the photographic identification requirement did not impact on the likelihood or experience of voting in the May 2023 English local elections among voting age adults with accepted photographic identification and trust in the in-person voting system remains high. However, those without accepted photographic identification were much more likely to say that the voter identification requirement made them less likely to vote.

Some academics have expressed concerns at the impact of voter ID on turnout.

Oxford University’s Professor Petra Schleiter said that analysis has shown a “significant and negative effect on people’s ability to participate in the elections”. She estimates that turnout was between 1 to 5.5% lower in the local elections in England due to the requirement for voter ID.

Professor Toby James, Co-Director of the Electoral Integrity Project, stated in a submission to the House of Lords Constitution Committee that “the evidence is clear that voter identification leads to many citizens not voting, who otherwise would have done so”. He says that, in 2023, over 70% of poll workers turned away at least one elector because they did not have the appropriate form of identification.

The upcoming PCC elections in Wales will not coincide with other elections. Where this has happened previously, turnout has generally been low; the 2012 elections saw a turnout of just 15.1% across Wales and England. It remains to be seen if the requirement to show voter ID will impact this figure.

An emerging picture?

It is not yet clear what impact the requirement to bring photo ID to polling stations will have on elections in Wales. The PCC elections in May will likely prove a useful source of data which will help our understanding of the policy implications.

Article by Adam Cooke, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament