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Britain proposes path to free Voter Card, digital identity potential for polls

Local authorities to issue free Voter Cards which will not be national ID, nor proof of age
Britain proposes path to free Voter Card, digital identity potential for polls

A paper published by the UK government outlines what will be accepted as photographic identity at future elections in Great Britain, includes plans for proposed legislation for a new Voter Card and provision for the list of accepted credentials to be updated to include digital identity.

The Elections Bill, currently being considered by Parliament, aims to introduce a requirement to show photographic identification when voting in person at polling stations and makes provision for the list of accepted credentials to be amended to include digital identity: “This could also allow for digital forms of identification to be included in the list in the future if appropriate.”

The scheme is expected to cost around £11.9 million (US$16.2 million) per year for the first ten years despite the paper stating: “Extensive research commissioned by the Cabinet Office on the ownership of the proposed list of documents estimated that 98 percent of the electorate holds an appropriate form of identification.”

The government plans for local authorities to issue the cards, side-stepping the issue of the system being seen as a national ID scheme, even though the cards can be used anywhere in Great Britain. The cards will also not include holders’ date of birth:

“The elector’s date of birth has been intentionally excluded for Great Britain. The government does not intend for this card to be used for demonstrating proof of age. This is consistent with the fact we have always been clear that this policy will not introduce a national identity card by the back door; the Voter Card is solely for the purpose of supporting the democratic process.”

This comes as age verification online will become a critical issue in the country if the Online Safety Bill passes.

Previous reports have shown contracts worth up to £3.75 million ($5.2m) are available for suppliers of the digital side to identity verification as well as card issuance. There is little still on how ID will be verified at the polling station and the paper states: “The government has been consulting on a future digital identity system and will consider how such solutions may support voter identification in the future.”

A list of accepted photo ID has been provided, which includes items such as EU national ID cards, UK passports and cards certified under PASS (Proof of Age Standards Scheme) such as the CitizenCard issued by Yoti. Expired credentials can still be used as long as there is good likeness with the photo included. The UK does not have a national identity system and driving license photo cards are a common alternative.

“We have always been clear that only permitting the use of passports and driving licences would neither be appropriate nor desirable – though highly secure, we appreciate that not all of the electorate possess them,” states the paper.

The inclusion of a number of credentials held by the over 60s such as the Freedom Pass, Oyster 60+ (both for public transport in London) and Older Person’s Bus Pass (national) alongside the exclusion of the 18+ Oyster and non-PASS accredited student cards suggests a tilt in favor of older voters by the ruling Conservative Party.

In the Ministerial Foreword to the paper by Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, electoral fraud is worded as “potential fraud” possibly because electoral fraud is so far minuscule in the UK, according to the Electoral Commission.

“In publishing this paper, I want to make it absolutely clear that everyone eligible to vote will continue to have the opportunity to do so. These measures have been informed by comprehensive research and pilots, and I wish to reassure all that they will be implemented in a careful and considerate way,” writes Badenoch.

“We will continue to work closely with the Electoral Commission, civil society organisations and administrators as the legislation progresses through Parliament to ensure that these changes work for all voters.”

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