Voter ID Will Now Be Needed At Elections – Here’s How New Rules Could Affect You
Campaigners have warned that the need for voter ID could cause chaos when it's required for the first time at local elections this May, arguing the change could undermine trust in democracy.
The Elections Act 2022, which passed through parliament last year, includes a new demand that adults in the UK show a valid form of photo ID, which can include a passport, driving licence, or special voter ID card that people can now apply for, in order to cast their vote. Previously a person would need simply to be registered to vote, and give their address at the polling station.
Several pro-democracy organisations including the Electoral Reform Society, Open Britain, Fair Vote, and Unlock Democracy have said the hasty rollout of the new laws could lead to “chaos” at the next elections as many people do not have a valid ID.
There are fears that as many as 2 million voters could be effectively disenfranchised because, according to the Electoral Commission, they do not have a form of ID that would allow them to vote.
The PA news agency reported earlier this week that the Electoral Commission had been given £5.6 million in government funding to launch a public awareness campaign around the new law and obtaining the correct ID, in a bid to tackle this issue.
Here are how voter ID roles are changing at polling stations, and who the new rules could affect:
What are the new rules on providing ID to vote?
Under the Elections Act 2022, which was first proposed by the government in May 2021, all voters must show photo ID when going to polling stations from 4 May 2023.
The new law applies to all local elections, police and crime commissioner elections, by-elections and recall petitions – a special election to remove an elected representative before the end of their term.
It will also apply to general elections from October 2023, with the next election due to be called before the end of 2024.
Accepted forms of ID include a UK passport, driving licence, an identity card issued under the PASS scheme or an ID card issued by a country in the European Economic Area (EEA).
Other acceptable documents include a Blue Badge card and certain local travel cards such as an Older Person’s Bus Pass or a Freedom Pass.
Voters must provide original documents, and photocopies or scans will not be accepted at polling stations.
People without any of the accepted forms of ID can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate, with the online application form due to be available from late January 2023.
It is also possible to apply via post, with details on how to apply available on the Electoral Commission website.
Why is ID being required at polling stations?
Plans for mandatory voter ID were first announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2021, and formed part of wider plans to reform the electoral system.
These included new restrictions on postal and proxy voting, and repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act which set parliamentary terms at five years.
Ministers argued that the move would improve trust in the British voting system, and would prevent electoral fraud, although cases of election fraud are considered incredibly rare in the UK.
The Electoral Commission has recommended that ID should be required at polling stations since 2014, claiming in a report that while electoral fraud was not “widespread” the current UK voting system “remains vulnerable to personation fraud”.
Between 2010 and 2016, there were 146 allegations of electoral fraud leading to seven convictions, with five convictions from a single case.
A separate report in 2016 by the government’s then anti-corruption czar Lord Pickles also claimed the move would “enhance public confidence” when voting, and proposed that both photo ID and proof of address could be used.
What are the concerns about new voter ID laws?
Critics of the move have argued that requiring ID could disenfranchise millions of voters because some do not already have the correct forms of ID.
According to a 2021 study by the Cabinet Office, around 96 per cent of adults had a valid form of ID where the photo was still definitely recognisable, meaning millions will now need to obtain new documentation in order to vote from this year. This fell to 91 per cent for those over 85, and 94 per cent for those with a disability.
The figures mean as many as 2 million people could be affected by the new laws as they do not have a valid or recognisable form of ID.
Several groups have warned the plans will impact vulnerable populations the most, with Age UK claiming the rules risk “being a barrier to some older people exercising their democratic right to vote”.
Homelessness charity Centrepoint has also said the changes could lead to vulnerable and low-income people “being potentially excluded from having a say at the ballot box”.
Ahead of the bill's introduction to Parliament in 2021, Labour warned that the changes were tantamount to US Republican-style reports of “voter suppression”.
Shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said at the time that the changes would "make it harder for working-class, older and black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons to vote".
“They know this is the case because their own research shows that millions of our fellow citizens lack photo ID in this country," she said in July 2021.
Are voters aware of the new laws requiring ID at polling stations?
Campaigners have repeatedly warned that the change is being rolled out too quickly, leading to thousands of voters being turned away unnecessarily at polling stations.
Although the Electoral Commission has previously recommended requiring voters to show ID, it has warned the government that the short timeframe of the current rollout could risk undermining confidence in British democracy.
The Elections Bill received Royal Assent in April, but the elections watchdog has said delays to the tabling of the secondary legislation, which sets out the details of how the scheme would work in practice, means election officials will have little time to prepare.
Secondary legislation was due to be published in the summer, but was ultimately only tabled in early December.
The Guardian also reported last month that the website allowing people without ID to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate had been delayed until after the start of the information campaign, leading to fears many could struggle to obtain the document.
The Electoral Commission launched its public information campaign on Monday, which is reportedly costing the taxpayer £5.6million.
It features adverts on TV, radio, billboards and online informing people of the change in law and encouraging those without ID to apply for a free certificate to vote.
The website for the Voter Authority Certificate, however, was not live at the time of the launch.
Mark Kieran, CEO of Open Britain and spokesperson for the Democracy Defence Coalition, said that delays to the Voter Authority Certificate website was “just the latest sign the government is setting up our elections to fail with its unnecessary voter ID policy”.
“Far from improving the integrity of our elections, a badly botched rollout of these new rules risks significantly undermining them,” he continued.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said voter ID plans were “completely unworkable” and that it was an “outrage” that the government was “spending yet more public money promoting disgraceful efforts to disenfranchise voters”.
The Liberal Democrats have also been strongly critical of the new laws, and last month launched an unsuccessful bid in the House of Lords to try and block the legislation.
They called the new rules a “thinly veiled attempt to suppress the votes of people across the UK” which “undermine the fundamental principles we stand for”.
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