Britain’s election watchdog has warned of possible problems when the controversial voter ID system is introduced at next May’s local elections because of government delays in introducing the required legislation.
Parliament passed the Elections Act 2022 in April, which stipulated that the new voter ID rules should be in place for the next set of elections in May 2023. But the government only on Monday put forward the necessary secondary legislation to work out the details of the reforms, instead of over the summer as expected.
Ailsa Irvine, director of electoral administration at the Electoral Commission, told the Financial Times that the organisation was committed to supporting the implementation of voter ID. “But the timetable before next May’s elections remains tight. The requirement must be delivered in a way which is accessible, secure and workable,” she said.
“We have raised concerns with the UK government that the delays we have seen to date, and the timetable for introduction, mean that these important considerations may not be fully met when the new policy is implemented,” she added.
James Jamieson, chair of the Local Government Association, which represents more than 300 authorities across the country, said there was insufficient time before the elections in May to give electoral administrators and returning officers the resources and clarity to implement changes to the electoral process. “For this reason, we are calling for the introduction of voter ID requirements to be delayed.”
The Tory government first drew up plans to bring in ID cards at the ballot box six years ago, insisting that the move would restore “integrity” to the political system by tackling voter fraud.
But critics argue that the crime of voter fraud is very rare, with only one conviction in 2017 and 2019, two of the busiest recent years for elections, including council and general elections.
The opposition Labour party has warned the requirement threatens to bar millions of people from exercising their democratic right, given that an estimated 3.5mn people do not carry any form of photo ID.
On Tuesday, Labour will put forward a motion in the House of Lords, which, if passed, would force the government to set up a select committee after next May’s elections to assess whether the use of voter ID has suppressed voter turnout.
Angela Rayner, deputy Labour leader, said it was an “outrage” that the government was spending money “disenfranchising” people when their priority should be the cost of living crisis. “Not only is the Tory voter ID plan completely unworkable, it is unnecessary and set to lock millions out of voting,” she said.
The Electoral Commission is due to carry out an extensive public awareness campaign in the first half of next year. The types of ID allowed will include passports, driving licences, biometric immigration documents and some concessionary travel passes.
A new voter document called a “Voter Authority Certificate” will be made available for those without any other form of identification, with people likely to be able to apply for these early next year free of charge.
A Downing Street spokesperson said there were no plans to delay the introduction of the requirement. “We believe it’s right to ensure there are protections in place against potential voter fraud.”
He said voter ID had worked “successfully” in Northern Ireland since 2003 and added: “We are working closely with councils to support the rollout.”
John Ault, executive director of Democracy Volunteers, an NGO, recently issued a report warning how councils were likely to struggle with the new regime.
The Cabinet Office has found that 42 per cent of people with no photo ID are unlikely to apply for one. “This would suggest that close to half of those without photo ID would not seek to apply for the voter card,” it admitted.
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