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UK’s photo ID requirement for voting stirs backlash against government

UK’s photo ID requirement for voting stirs backlash against government

The UK is planning to introduce mandatory photo identification for voters during national elections for the first time this year. But the country’s electoral watchdog is warning that the tight ID rules risk disenfranchising certain groups while the new rules could be seen as benefitting the Tory Party.

“The photo ID requirement is clearly proving more of a barrier to some people than others,” says John Pullinger, chair of the UK Electoral Commission.

The introduction of photo IDs for voting has been fueling accusations that the Tory government is trying to gerrymander the elections by excluding voters who are likely to vote against them, including younger people.

The Conservative government first introduced the voter ID system during local elections in England in May 2024. According to the commission’s research, about 14,000 people, or 0.25 percent of the people who tried to vote could not do so because they did not carry the proper ID, Pullinger told the Financial Times.

“I think readers will need to draw their own judgment about that,” he adds.

The Commission’s survey also showed that among the people who did not vote last year, four percent said that the photo ID requirements were the reason. The proportion is significantly higher among disabled people, unemployed people and some other groups, according to Pullinger.

A separate survey from polling company We Think published last week by Byline Times found that 22 percent of UK voters are still unaware they need to carry a photo ID to vote. Only a third (33 percent) of younger voters under 40  said they know about the ID requirement compared to 97 percent of those over the age of 74. The discrepancy may have a significant impact on the results of the general election, the pollster concludes.

Pullinger added that it’s too late to introduce changes for the upcoming national elections, which are expected to be called at some time in 2024. Instead, the government should include more documents in the ID scheme and allow people carrying a photo ID to vouch for other votes, he says.

The UK government currently allows 22 forms of ID for voting. Since January, the country has introduced voter authority certificates (VAC) for those without any other form of ID. But the uptake of the certificates has been slow with some lawmakers suggesting a digital form of the certificate.

The Electoral Reform Society estimates that two million potential voters have no biometric ID of any kind.

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