Just 50,000 out of an estimated two million voters without ID have applied for the new ‘free’ voter identification certificate ahead of England’s local elections
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Nearly two million people are at risk of losing their vote in Britain, as official figures reveal that only 50,000 people have applied for the Government’s free form of photo ID, ahead of the local elections in England.
The news comes with just four weeks to go before millions of people head to the ballot box in England to pick new councillors. It will be the first widespread election in England where voters must show photo identification – or be turned away.
Shaun Roberts from campaign group Unlock Democracy and the Democracy Defence Coalition told a seminar on the controversial plans: “The Government began advertising for its form of free ID in January, but the website wasn’t ready. Now about two million people are effectively barred from voting, and only 50,000 have applied for free ID.”
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He warned that there are “big questions” about the Government’s motives for implementing the policy, which is meant to reduce concerns about voter fraud. However, new figures have revealed that not a single person was convicted of personation fraud – the type mandatory ID is meant to prevent – last year.
“If you don’t believe that personation is the biggest threat to elections, then you must have questions about why the Government chose to focus on it,” Roberts said.
Hypocrisy and Half-Truths
During discussions around the Online Safety Bill, the Government admitted that around 3.5 million people don’t have valid photo ID – and ruled ID out as a prerequisite for getting a social media account on those grounds.
Conservative MPs also lobbied hard against ID for vaccine passports during the pandemic, while at the same time ministers were pushing through the voter identification bill, the Elections Act. “One in 25 voters face losing out, and no one is speaking up for them,” Roberts said.
Conservative MP David Davis was one of just a couple of Conservative rebels to vote against mandatory ID, while ministers whipped against a Lords amendment that would have made the list of acceptable forms of identification longer.
Roberts accused Government ministers of “lying in parliament” about how many people there are without a valid photo ID. Ministers have claimed that 98% of people have valid ID – but their own figures show it is actually 96% who have a recognisable photo ID.
Other studies show the figure is even lower, particularly in London and areas of high deprivation. Groups most affected are the very old, people without qualifications, disabled people, and the unemployed.
“The less well-off you are, the less likely you are to have a photo ID,” the Democracy Defence Coalition spokesperson told attendees.
Other people affected include those who don’t routinely carry their photo ID, such as those who only have a passport, not a driving licence.
In November, ministers published secondary legislation fleshing out the new ID law. “It contained one of the most restrictive lists of valid ID in the world,” Roberts said.
The official watchdog, the Electoral Commission (EC), has been trying to promote voter ID, but has been handed a tiny budget for promotion of around £1m. “That would be laughed at as a private business. It won’t touch the sides,” Roberts said.
Worryingly, it is unlikely we will find out how many people will be denied a vote in May’s elections – with official figures collected on polling day set to be “absolutely meaningless”.
“The only data that will be counted is if someone gets to the very front of the queue and is actually turned away, ignoring all the signs about ID on the way. Some local authorities will also be deploying people outside polling stations that stop people from getting even that far,” he said. The Electoral Commission’s data on people turned away will only cover those who actually speak to a staff member in the polling station.
He added: “It will utterly destroy any real sense of the numbers turned away.” Turnout is also likely to be a battleground. “If turnout is up a bit, the Government will say there’s no problem, but if it’s down, they will say it has nothing to do with ID,” Roberts said.
In Northern Ireland, where voter ID is used, the free ID can be used elsewhere as identification, such as pubs. However, the new free form of ID in the rest of the UK is a thin, A4 sheet of paper that is unlikely to last.
Labour have been relatively tight lipped on whether they will repeal mandatory photo ID.
Roberts said: “Their manifesto will be a tightly worded thing. The hope is that they would get the list of IDs extended.” The Lib Dems have pledged to repeal voter ID.
In Wales and Scotland, voter ID will not be imposed for local and devolved parliament elections, but they will have to demand it for Westminster elections.
Authorities in Wales are piloting automatic voter registration (AVR), trials on making it easier to vote, and they have also extended the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.
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