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High Court Gives Go Ahead to Voter ID Pilots

Sarah Sackman

The High Court has ruled that the Cabinet Office's proposals to pilot voter identification requirements in the May 2019 local elections are lawful (R(oao Coughlan) v Cabinet Office [2019] EWHC 641 (Admin)).

The pilots will require voters to produce prescribed forms of photographic or other identification before they can receive their ballot. If deemed a success the requirements could be rolled out nationally in all future local elections.

The Claimant, a voter in Braintree,  one of the pilot authorities, argued that the pilots were ultra vires s.10 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 which makes provision for the Minister to run pilots schemes testing “how voting is to take place”. He argued that “how” in this context referred to the physical process of voting whereas the ID rules tested “who” is entitled to vote. He also argued that the legislation’s purpose was to test electoral reforms which would facilitate and encourage voting whereas the ID schemes would have the opposite effect.

Mr Justice Supperstone held that the piloting power was a broad one and that “how” voting is to take place could encompass procedures for demonstrating an entitlement to vote. Section 10 allowed the Government to test any reforms for the purposes of modernising the electoral system.

It is estimated that 3.5 million voters in the UK do not hold photographic ID (such as a passport or drivers licence). Concerns have been voiced by the Electoral Reform Society and others that the measure could disenfranchise vulnerable and marginalised groups who are already less likely to vote.

Sarah Sackman represented the Claimant led by Michael Fordham QC and Natasha Simonsen of Blackstone Chambers. Sarah was instructed by Leigh Day solicitors.