Fears for punch-ups at polling booths as millions may be denied vote

Ruth Davidson swears about voter ID proposals in May

A returning officer for the upcoming local elections has voiced fears that things could get “nasty” on local election polling day next month, as millions risk turning up to cast their vote only to find out they don’t have a valid form of ID. New rules coming in for next month’s election will see compulsory ID required for the first time at an election, but many without valid forms of ID aren’t signing up for the free certificate scheme being run by the Government. 

A local returning officer told the Politico website “Will it get a bit nasty? Hopefully not so nasty that punches are traded and police are called, but who’s to say?

“There will be a proportion of voters who don’t behave reasonably — who might get angry about it, saying ‘I pay my UK taxes, I’ve been on the register for 40 years, you are denying my vote.’”

Despite a “Remember Photo ID To Vote” campaign being run by the government, many are not applying for the free certificate. 

According to the government dashboard’s latest figures, 51,109 people have applied for the free certificate. 

However, this represents just two percent of the number expected to lack the right form of ID. 

It’s estimated that anywhere between 925,000 and 3.5 million people in the UK lack the right form of ID, though figures from the Department of Local Government say 99% of people aged 18-29 already have acceptable ID. 

The Politico website also spoke to a public official who said “Everyone is resigned to delivering it, but a lot of people are very nervous about it”.

“We hope the electorate are respectful of the fact that the staff are only doing their job. But this is another barrier that’s been put in the way … We just don’t know until we get there on polling day.”

Despite critics branding voter ID a “sledgehammer to crack a nut” – there were just 183 allegations of in-person voter fraud between 2014 and 2022 – Downing Street says the policy is safeguarding against “potential” wrongdoing. 

In March, Michael Gove told a Commons committee that “less than 1%” of voters are expected to be turned away from polling stations due to lacking ID. 

The scheme was first introduced by Boris Johnson in October 2019, intending to “tackle voter fraud and protect our democracy”. 

At the time, a Cabinet office spokesman said “Electoral fraud is an unacceptable crime that strikes at a core principle of our democracy.”

However many groups – including Labour MPs – have accused the government of trying to put up barriers and disenfranchise marginal groups. 

In November 2020, the then shadow minister for voter engagement, Cat Smith, said “It is deeply concerning that the UK Government would seek to imitate such an anti-democratic policy”.

Darren Hughes of the Electoral Reform Society warned the plans “will leave tens of thousands of legitimate voters voiceless”.

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This morning, a government spokesperson told the Daily Express, “We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure. Photo identification has been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003”.

“The vast majority of people already have a form of acceptable identification. We’re urging anyone who doesn’t to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate as soon as possible and we expect more people to apply over the next few weeks.

“We’re working closely with the sector to support the rollout and are funding the necessary equipment and staffing for the change in requirements.”

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