A public awareness campaign has been launched to maximise participation in elections by Londoners and address what City Hall calls “the equalities impact” of government legislation making it more difficult for people to vote.
With the next contests for London Mayor and London Assembly seats due in May 2024 and a general election certain by January 2025 at the latest, the Greater London Authority (GLA) has joined forces with social enterprise Shout Out UK (SOUK) to improve voter registration and, in particular, inform people about the new legal requirement to produce specific forms of photographic identification before they are allowed to cast their vote at a polling station.
It has been estimated that at least 1.1 million (page 25) and perhaps nearly two million fewer people will vote in UK elections as a result of “voter ID”, a controversial element of the government’s Elections Act (2022) introduced when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister and passed by Parliament last April. Many of these are likely to be in London which already has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the UK.
A YouGov survey commissioned by the GLA has found that six out of ten Londoners eligible to vote are unaware of the changes to the democratic system ahead of the introduction of Voter ID, which will first come into effect at local elections elsewhere in England in May and for general elections from October. Of those who were aware, only a minority know which forms of ID will be accepted.
Voters in lower income households were found to be significantly less likely than those in the higher income categories to know about Voter ID and its requirements, and only around one in ten Londoners overall said they possess one of the approved forms of Voter ID, such as a passport, driving licence or photo travelcard.
The GLA and SOUK say half a million Londoners do not even possess a passport, at least 2.6 million do not have a full driving licence, few disabled Londoners would be able to produce a photo travel pass, and that only one in five black Londoners and one in three Londoners who are citizens of European Union countries are even registered to vote.
At the last elections for Mayor and Assembly members, held in May 2021, Greater London had 6.2 million registered electors out of a total population, including under-18s, of up to nine million. Turnout for the mayoral ballot was 42 per cent.
The Elections Act has also done away with the traditional supplementary vote system – used for electing London’s Mayors since the very first such election in 2000 – which allows voters to express both a first and a second preference for Mayor. It has been replaced by the less sophisticated first past the post system, which gives voters only one choice and means a Mayor can be installed with the support of less than half of the voting electorate.
Last spring Bob Kerslake, former president of the Local Government Association and former head of the civil service, was strongly critical of the then proposed new law, saying it went “completely against the principle that legislation on how we vote should only be brought forward after extensive public consultation and with a high level of consensus”.
Kerslake concurred with the view of campaign group Liberty that the introduction of Voter ID is “a solution in search of a problem” due to the paucity of evidence that people impersonate others at polling stations, and said it was hard to see the government’s decision to “ride roughshod” over earlier consultations and, in London, a referendum, that led to the use of the supplementary vote system and replace it with first past the post as motivated by anything other than “perceived electoral advantage”.
Depriving Londoners of a second preference vote for Mayor is thought likely to split support for left and centre mayoral candidates, giving the Conservatives a better chance of defeating Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan who has been nominated to seek re-election. Voter ID is also widely held to reduce support for politicians of the left as it adversely affects a larger percentage of potential voters more likely to back them.
On London strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for just £5 a month. You will even get things for your money. Details here.