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VOTER SUPPRESSION WATCH: Woking Party Leader Returns Home from Polling Station After Forgetting ID

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Despite reminding voters of the need to bring ID with them to the polling station, the Labour councillor forgot to do so himself, reports Catherine Avery

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A party leader forgot his voter ID and had to return home to fetch it in today’s local elections.

Woking’s Labour group leader Councillor Tahir Aziz said he was concerned that the new voter ID rules left some people out – including voters waiting for immigration documents to be sent to them by the Home Office.

Cllr Aziz said he was so busy visiting polling stations that he left his own photo ID at home and had to return to get it. Despite reminding voters of the need to bring ID with them to the polling station, he forgot as he said people do not usually carry documents such as passports around with them, preferring to keep them under lock and key.

The councillor, whose Canalside seat was not up for election in Surrey, said: “I represent a lot of ethnic minorities in my ward and their paperwork is immigrants (paperwork) processed by the Home Office and they don’t have any photo ID with them, so its not a right thing.”

Some residents are still waiting for those all important documents to be sent to them, so were left without passports to show at the polling station. “It’s going to have a negative impact on turnover which is not in the best spirit of the democratic process,” he added.

A third of the 30 seats on Woking Borough Council were up for election today. Surrey County Council played a role in voter ID pilots pre-pandemic.

Cllr Aziz said that affected residents include those applying for visas or passports, who have voting rights in the UK because they come from Commonwealth countries.

In line with the national trend, few residents in Woking appear to have applied for the voter authority card from the council. This form of  free photo ID was designed for those with no other ID, such as a passport or driving licence. Voters needed to provide a photo, national insurance number or other documents such as a birth certificate, bank statement or utility bill.

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Cllr Aziz said it was another layer of paperwork: “If people have to apply for ID, it’s a process and it’s an effort for some people.”

He said that the new ID rules are “definitely having some negative impact and I have come across people on my canvassing sessions of quite a few people who are unable to vote for all sorts of reasons”.

“Some elderly people don’t have photo IDs and some IDs have not been properly explained to them, what sort of IDs they can have and some young people do not carry IDs,” he said. “It has disenfranchised some people.”

One voter had lost his wallet and did not have time to get new ID before the election, he said.

Back in May 2018’s local elections, voters in Woking were part of a pilot scheme and had to bring ID with them to vote. An Electoral Commission evaluation found that “the majority of voters were able to meet the identification requirements upon arriving at the polling station”.

Other participating councils in the pilot were the London Borough of Bromley, Gosport in Hampshire, Swindon in Wiltshire, and Watford in Hertfordshire.

Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, Slough in Berkshire and Tower Hamlets in east London had pilot schemes for postal voting.

The following May, Woking was one of two areas testing photo only ID, along with Pendle in Lancashire. Just 87 Woking  voters were turned away because they did not have the right documents with them and 22, or 0.1% of the voters at the polling station, did not return to vote.

Liberal Democrat councillor Adam Kirby said he met a household where one voter had the right ID and the other did not and both said they planned to stay at home. Another voter with disabilities had not received the voter identification document in time.

Cllr Kirby, who was acting as a teller at a polling station today, said: “The proportion of voters who are actively turned away, are not necessarily the proportion of people who are turned away by the system.”


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