UK Government ignores pleas to pause voter ID plans amid fears of widespread disenfranchisement
Calls to pause plans to force voters to show identification at polling stations have been ignored by the UK Government amid warnings of widespread disenfranchisement.
Local government minister Lee Rowley said around 98% of the electorate already have an accepted form of voter ID, such as a passport, driving licence or blue badge, and confirmed more than 21,000 applications have been made for a free voter ID document.
But opposition MPs voiced concerns over the pace of the rollout of the voter authority certificates given local elections in England on May 4 will require people to show an approved form of photographic identification before collecting their ballot paper.
Senedd elections and local authority elections in Wales are not impacted by the requirement for photo ID, but it will apply to Welsh constituencies at the next general election and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
The requirement is already in place in Northern Ireland and, from October, the condition will be extended to UK general elections as well.
Liberal Democrat MP Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) warned the reforms were similar to using a “sledgehammer to crack a nut” given there is little evidence that personation – voting in an election by pretending to be someone else – is a significant problem in the British electoral system.
She added the policy is a “thinly-veiled attempt to make it far more difficult for people to vote” and criticised the Government for the “botched” rollout of ID.
Ms Morgan said: “Of the estimated two million people who will now need a new form of ID, a voter authority certificate, in order to vote, just 1% have applied.
“And of that tiny number, not even 21,000, a tiny minority are older people or young people – groups who we were warned risk being disenfranchised under these new plans.”
Ms Morgan added: “Will the minister commit to, at the very least, pausing this year’s rollout?
“He will be aware that the Electoral Commission’s analysis that this rushed rollout means that the May elections can’t be run ‘in a fully-secure, accessible and workable manner’.”
Mr Rowley said the Government was making a “basic, fundamental change to ensure that we protect the integrity of the ballot box”, adding: “I need to take on this notion that there are two million people who need a voter ID – that is not correct.”
He added: “Of those two million people, which is an estimate, a large number of those will not have elections in their area this year.
“Secondly, of that group a number will choose not to vote – much as we would like them to do so – will have chosen never to have voted, and we would encourage them to do so, but ultimately that is what the purpose of a democracy is – people have a right to vote and not to vote, and we’re seeking to encourage them to do so, we’re seeking to guarantee that integrity.”
For Labour, shadow communities minister Alex Norris noted there are 72 days before polling day and added: “We’re risking widespread disenfranchisement.
“When is the minister going to wake up and act to prevent these voter ID requirements from locking huge numbers of people out of their democracy at the next election?”
Mr Rowley replied: “(Mr Norris) continues to perpetuate the myth that this is some form of suppression – it’s absolutely incorrect.”
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