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Britain Goes to the Polls With Mandatory Voter ID for First Time


This year’s local elections are under way in England, which mark the first time it has been compulsory for all voters in England to have to show photo identification when arriving at polling stations.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to face his first major electoral test since entering Number 10 Downing Street just over six months ago, as more than 8,000 council seats in England are up for grabs across 230 local authorities, ranging from small rural areas to some of the largest towns and cities.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman listen as they visit a U3A community group at the Chiltern leisure centre in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, on May 3, 2023. (Frank Augstein/PA Media)

Polls are also taking place to choose mayors in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield, and Middlesbrough.

Under the Elections Bill passed in April 2022, those turning up at polling stations will need to show a valid photo ID before being given a voting slip.

Valid photo IDs include passports, driving licences, blue badges, biometric residence permits, defence identity cards, and national identity cards issued by the European Union, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein.

Photo ID Required

The Electoral Commission reminded voters on the eve of the polling day to remember to bring with them their identification.

Craig Westwood, director of communications at the commission, said: “Anyone voting at a polling station in England will need to show photo ID before they can be given their ballot paper.

“Before you head to the polling station, don’t forget to check your bag, wallet, or pocket to make sure you have the ID you need to vote.

“Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. If you don’t remember your ID when you arrive at a polling station, you can return with it later in the day.”

The voter ID rules apply to England as of Thursday and will come into force for UK general elections from October.

The prime minister has said the rule change will help make sure voting is a “high-integrity process.”

Downing Street said the rules are aimed at preventing potential voter impersonation, rather than dealing with any widespread existing issue.

Voter ID is not entirely a novelty for the UK, as it has been a requirement in Northern Ireland—a British province—for nearly 40 years.

Voter ID requirements were introduced in Northern Ireland after the 1983 general elections following concerns about the extent of voter fraud in the British province. Since 2003 photographic ID has been required.

According to a briefing paper for the House of Commons, “There has been no evidence that the ID requirements in Northern Ireland have affected turnout.”

Since 2014 the Electoral Commission has recommended that photo ID should be required in the rest of the UK.

Opposition

Much like in the USA, the issue has become a hot topic in the UK, with Labour calling the new ID requirement a discriminatory policy that will “disenfranchise millions of voters.”

The government estimates that around 2 percent of the population do not have an accepted form of voter ID.

In the lead up to the elections, those affected were encouraged to sign-up for a voter authority certificate, a free form of photographic identification supplied by the government which will be accepted by polling station staff.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Gillingham, Kent, England, on May 3, 2023. (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that it was the responsibility of the government to ensure voters knew about the changes to voter ID requirements.

He told broadcasters on Wednesday: “I don’t want to see anybody turning up not knowing that they needed ID, because the government bore full responsibility for making sure that everybody who can vote knows they have got to bring that ID.

“We will be watching very carefully tomorrow to see where responsibility lies.”

Labour has encouraged voters to register for a postal vote which is not subject to the same voter ID regulations.

Electoral Test

The local elections are likely to be the final set of polls before the next general election, with the results expected to give an indication of whether Labour will defeat the Conservatives and form the next UK government.

Labour is riding high in opinion polls. An Opinium survey carried out online between April 26 and 28 indicated that Labour could secure 44 percent of the vote share, versus the Tories’ 26 percent—a lead of 18 points.

The poll of polls tracker kept by political website Politico said that, as of Tuesday, Labour had a slightly narrower lead of 16 points but one that was still well into double-digit territory.

Talking at an Onward think tank event on Wednesday evening, Sunak said the Conservatives “should be prepared that tomorrow night is going to be hard for us.”

He added: “I’ve only been prime minister for six months but I do believe we’re making good progress. Just think about where we were then and where we are now.”

Meanwhile, Starmer said Labour has “a positive case to tell” and that he hoped to make electoral progress.

He added: “If you believe it’s time to build a better Britain you can do something simple—grab your ID, get down to your polling station, and vote Labour today.”

PA Media contributed to this report.



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