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Electoral Commission warns of problems with UK’s new voter ID

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Britain’s election watchdog has warned of possible problems when the controversial voter ID system is introduced at next May’s local elections.

Ailsa Irvine, director of electoral administration at the Electoral Commission, told the FT 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.

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.

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.

On Monday the government will put forward the necessary secondary legislation, called a “statutory instrument”, to work out the details of the reforms. Unusually the SI will be debated on the floor of the House of Commons rather than the more common practice of a few MPs meeting in a committee room.

Labour has pointed out that the odds of being impersonated in an election are lower than winning the lottery and warned that the policy 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.

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.

The government said that photo identification had been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003. “We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure.

“Everyone eligible to vote will have the opportunity to do so and 98 per cent of electors already have an accepted form of identification . . . we are working closely with the sector to support the rollout and funding the necessary equipment and staffing.”

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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