UK’s new voter ID law: What trans and non-binary people need to know

A polling station sign with the trans and Pride flags

The UK’s new voter ID law has sparked fears that trans and non-binary people could become disenfranchised – but there are ways to cast your vote without a photo ID.

From the May local elections, all voters will be required to present photo ID before they can receive their ballot.

The Conservative government says the new law will protect the “integrity” of elections and prevent voter fraud. However, there are widespread concerns that trans and non-binary people could be discouraged or prevented from exercising their democratic right.

Polling station clerks will verify voters’ photos and making sure the name on the ID matches what is on the electoral register.

While gender markers are irrelevant for the purposes of voter ID, under the law, people won’t be allowed to cast their vote if the officer thinks there’s “reasonable doubt” that the individual isn’t the person they claim to be based on their photo ID. 

Justin Mahboubian-Jones, community engagement manager at LGBT HERO, says the vague language used is troubling.

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“That phrase ‘reasonable doubt’ is not clarified in the rest of the Elections Act,” he tells PinkNews. 

“So when we’re talking about trans people and people whose gender expression either changes, is fluid or maybe doesn’t match that on their ID, it’s unclear whether someone – be that the polling station clear, the presiding officers, the person in charge at the polling station – would gauge that sufficient for there to be reasonable doubt around your photo.

“There’s clear guidance around what accepted changes there are in photos for something like a passport in terms of your validity for travel – but not in the case of photo ID for elections.”

There are concerns many may not even make it to the polling station, either because they don’t have a valid ID or because they aren’t comfortable producing it. Accepted forms of ID include as a passport, driving licence (full or provisional), biometric immigration document or a PASS card.

LGBTQ+ people are three times more likely than the general population to be without useable photo ID (at 12 per cent and 4 per cent respectively), according to a 2021 Stonewall and LGBT Foundation report.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of trans people and one in five (19 per cent) non-binary people who responded to the survey said they were without.

Additionally, 39 per cent of queer people said they would be less likely to vote if they had to present ID – this rose to more than half of trans and non-binary people (55 per cent and 52 per cent respectively). 

Craig Westwood, director of communications, policy and research at the Electoral Commission, says people may have concerns about “whether the photo ID looks like them as they do at the moment, or about gender markers”.

“The people in polling stations are not going to be checking those, but I could understand that people might have concerns about that,” he tells PinkNews.

Apart from the new ID requirement, Westwood says the voting process will be mostly the same: staff will ask for a name and address as usual, before checking a voter’s ID. They shouldn’t check the gender marker, address or nationality on ID cards. 

“There is the option, if people are concerned about their ID and about that being checked in a public setting, for them to be checked in a private area in polling stations,” Westwood notes.

Free voter ID is available

For people who don’t feel comfortable with their current ID or don’t have an acceptable form of ID, there is the option to apply for a free voter authority certificate from the government. The deadline to apply for this form of ID is 25 April.

Citizens don’t need to provide their gender when applying for the voter authority certificate, but they do need to apply using the same name they used to register to vote.

LGBT HERO has been going directly into the community to do voter ID drop-ins over the past month, with some specifically geared towards meeting with trans and non-binary groups. Mahboubian-Jones says people have been enthusiastic to get involved. 

“There are many ways in which we can participate in the political sphere and in the social sphere in terms of demonstration, protest,” he says. “Voting is an absolutely key way of enacting the change you want to see in the world regardless of your opinions, regardless of what that change is.”

“As a group of people who have been historically and still are disenfranchised and facing a huge amount of issues – trans people are facing an absolute wave of issues around everything from their civil rights to health care – being able to take your voice and say ‘this is who I’m voting for’ is a fundamental way of participating in society. 

“To not be able to do that because you weren’t aware of the changes is more than just a shame. It shouldn’t happen.”

England’s local elections in May will be the first time ID has been mandatory in England, Scotland or Wales. It is already a requirement at all elections in Northern Ireland. 

LGBTQ+ folks who can’t make it to the polling station, don’t have an acceptable form of voter ID or don’t feel comfortable casting their vote in-person on 4 May can still apply to vote by post

They can also apply to allow someone else to vote on their behalf; this is known as a proxy vote

The deadline to register to vote is midnight on 17 April, and the deadline to apply to vote by post is 18 April. People who wish to register for a proxy vote have until 25 April.

MPscivil rights groupsunions and charities have questioned the rationale behind the voter ID law given the low levels of electoral fraud. Labour MP Cat Smith previously likened the sweeping changes to US Republican-style “voter suppression”.

Out of the millions of votes cast in 2021, just 315 allegations of electoral fraud were investigated by the police, according to Electoral Commission data. None of these cases led to a conviction.