Plans to require voters to show photo ID at polling stations for the first time in May risk undermining access to democracy and must be delayed, ministers have warned.
Amid concerns over voter refusal and confrontation by poll workers, the body representing the councils told the Observer there was simply not enough time to deal with all the risks that will be created by the new system.
There will also be an attempt to torpedo the plan during the vote in parliament this week. Concerns about the plan include that vulnerable voters could be disenfranchised, staff won’t be properly trained and many voters won’t be aware of the changes. Identity checks may also mean that new sites will have to be found.
In a major intervention on the local elections in May, James Jamieson, president of the Local Government Association and a Conservative adviser, said the measures should be delayed. “It is a fundamental part of the democratic process that elections can be conducted smoothly and efficiently, where every citizen is able to exercise their right to vote,” he said.
“While we accept that voter identification is now mandated by law, election administrators and returning officers should be given the appropriate time, resources, clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the process. electoral… without risking access to the vote. We are concerned that there is not enough time to do so before the May 2023 election, and for this reason we ask that the introduction of voter identification requirements be delayed.
Some opponents have argued the measures are disproportionate to the threat of voter impersonation and accuse ministers of trying to suppress the vote. There was only one conviction for voter impersonation in the 2017 election.
Jamieson said ministers should adhere to a long-held principle that such changes should not be imposed within six months of a round of elections. England’s May elections are taking place in councils across the country, including Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.
Ministers said the photo ID change was introduced to protect the integrity of the elections, but the short notice alarmed those responsible for organizing them. Jamieson said he was concerned about how much time was left to review polling stations and prepare the new computer systems needed.
There have also been problems recruiting polling station staff and volunteers, given fears about the potential for conflict that new photo identification measures could create. Peter Stanyon, CEO of the Association of Election Administrators, raised the issue of staff security. “Those [with] the May elections are not entirely sure what they have to deliver,” he said. “They will need to know what level of training they will need to give to both core staff and volunteers. This is now skilled labor – they will have to say “no” to people who show up without the right ID or no ID at all.
It’s not about giving them higher fees. It is a question of risks. »
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats will try to kill the plans in the House of Lords this week using a ‘fatal motion’, a rarely used parliamentary device. A number of council leaders have also written to upgrade secretary Michael Gove with concern.
“We urge the government to delay the introduction of voter identification regulations until after May 2023 to allow time for a smooth introduction of the online voter authority certificate system and a voter awareness campaign. audience that gives voters time to fully understand how the new rules will affect them,” they wrote. “Failure to do so could lead to a situation where certain results would be legally challenged, which would be bad for democracy and could undermine public confidence in the electoral process.”
Baroness Pinnock, the peer fighting the measure in the Lords, said: ‘We oppose these plans to deprive thousands and thousands of people from all walks of life… in the strongest way possible, by forcing a vote in both Houses of Parliament. The government must abandon this devious plan.
A government spokesman said: ‘We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring the security of our democracy. Anyone eligible to vote will have the opportunity to do so and 98% of voters already have accepted ID. Photo ID has been used in elections in Northern Ireland since 2003 and we are working closely with the industry to support the deployment and funding of the necessary equipment and personnel.