'Millions' face being turned away at polls by new voter ID laws

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The government is being accused of rushing through plans to enforce photo ID checks at polling stations, potentially leaving up to two million people at risk of not being able to vote in May's upcoming local elections.

The government says it is introducing the measure to "protect the integrity of elections", despite just one conviction for voter impersonation in the last three years. It means those at polling stations will be asked to present a passport, driving licence or another form of approved photo identification.

It is estimated around two million adults in the UK do not have an accepted form of photo ID, but they can apply for a "voter authority certificate" either online or through their local council, which requires presentation of documents like a national insurance card and a passport photo.

With less than 90 days to go until hundreds of council seats are up for election, just 10,000 people have applied so far.

Meanwhile, despite the rollout of an advertising and public information campaign, a survey conducted by Omnisis and the Byline Times estimated 60% of people were unaware of the changes.

Voters will be asked to present a form of photo ID at polling stations during May's local elections. Credit: ITV News

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society said: “Voter ID is the biggest change to how our elections work in a generation and the fact that, less than 100 days away from polling day, millions still lack the means to vote is deeply worrying.

“The government have long claimed that their free ID would ensure that nobody is unable to cast a ballot, but these figures show that the vast majority of those who need one are yet to register – meaning we could see thousands turned away on election day.

“It’s time that ministers think again about this dangerous policy – if they don’t, they risk chaos at the polls in May and risk undermining free and fair elections across the UK.”

Photo ID laws will be trialled in the local elections this May, but are set to be rolled out in a general election when one is called. Credit: ITV News

Meanwhile organisations that promote the welfare of ethnic minority communities in Britain claim that these groups will be disproportionally impacted by voter ID laws at polling stations.

According to 2021 census data, while three-quarters of those identifying as "White British" hold a full driving license, 38% of South Asian people and 48% of Black people do not. 

Nannette Youssef, Policy Officer from The Runnymede Trust said: "We have this huge Democratic deficit, which is adversely affecting ethnic minority people across the UK.

"Evidence from the United States suggests that when photographic ID is implemented at the ballot, that ethnic minority people are less likely to turn out and vote.

"The government should be doing more to encourage these communities to be part of the democratic process, not introducing policies which are likely to exclude them."

A spokesperson for Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities told ITV News: “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% of electors already have an accepted form of identification.

"Photo identification has been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003 and we’re working closely with the sector to support the rollout and funding the necessary equipment and staffing.”

If you still want to vote in upcoming elections but do not hold a valid form of photo ID, you can apply for a postal vote here, or apply for a voter authority certificate which can be used at polling stations here. You can also apply for either by contacting your local council.

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