By: Pramod Thomas
THE Local Government Association (LGA), national membership body for local authorities, has warned that staff will face increased pressure because of new rules requiring all voters to produce photo ID in order to cast their ballots, a report said.
The LGA raised the issue amid concerns that the requirements are too strict, and inadequate preparation has been made to inform voters regarding the rule change before the elections in May, the Guardian reported.
Tory councillor and chairman of the LGA James Jamieson said that raising public awareness of these new requirements is crucial.
“We remain concerned about the potential for electoral staff to be overwhelmed with enquiries and voter authority certificate applications when polling cards go out. Electoral administrators and returning officers also need urgent clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the electoral process without risking access to the vote,” he was quoted as saying by the Observer.
Meanwhile, ministers said that the change is essential to root out extremely rare cases of voter fraud. The photo ID rule was piloted in several local authorities at previous local elections in England, with lighter touch restrictions.
According to critics, the the change will adversely affect more than a million voters as they don’t have photo ID such as a passport or driving licence. Besides, it is too late to apply for a voter authority certificate (VAC), which will be accepted as a substitute.
Opposition Labor even claimed that the move will help Tories as older voters, who are likely to support them, are more likely to have photo ID. As per the new rule, voters over-60s can use Oyster cards, a payment method for public transport in London, while younger people are not allowed to use it.
Latest government data revealed that fewer than 21,000 people out of an estimated 2 million who will require VACs had applied for them. With just a few weeks to go before polling day on 4 May, only 505 people aged over 75 had applied, and fewer than 6 per cent of applicants were aged under 25.
Labour MP Angela Eagle views the rule-change as ‘an attempt at voter suppression’.
“In a society where there is no ID-card system, requiring voters to prove their identities to solve a non-existent problem and using a narrow range of documentation is deliberately designed to stop poorer voters accessing their democratic rights. Many tens of thousands of people are likely to be turned away from polling stations as a direct result of these changes. This is a blatant Tory attempt at voter suppression, and a direct and partisan attack on our democracy,” Eagle was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
“It seems that the government is intent on making it harder for younger people to use their existing forms of photo ID at the polling station, Oyster cards, for example. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is because young people are least likely to vote Conservative.”
Responding to the concerns, local government minister Lee Rowley said that the plans had been in the 2019 Tory election manifesto.
“We will not shirk our responsibilities to protect the integrity of the ballot box. According to government research, about 98 per cent of the electorate already have an accepted voter ID, whether it is a passport, a driving licence or one of nearly 20 other eligible types of identification. That includes, for some, expired identification, in order to maximise participation,” Rowley is reported to have said in parliament.
“The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people already have what they need to fulfill this new protection at the ballot box. For those who do not, the government have made available a voter authority certificate, which can be applied for today. It is free of charge and can be issued to everyone who wants it in readiness for May.”