Downing Street has rejected calls to delay the implementation of the government’s controversial voter ID reforms.
The Electoral Commission and Local Government Association (LGA) want the changes – which will force voters to produce photo identification at polling stations – postponed until after next May’s local elections.
They say more time is needed to make sure the changes are workable and do not result in people being unable to vote.
Ailsa Irvine, the Electoral Commission’s director of electoral administration, told the Financial Times that the changes “must be delivered in a way which is accessible, secure and workable”.
She added: “We have raised concerns with the UK government that the delays we have seen to date, and the timetable for introduction, mean that these important considerations may not be fully met when the new policy is implemented.”
LGA chairman James Jamieson said: “It is a fundamental part of the democratic process that elections can run smoothly and effectively, where every citizen is able to exercise their right to vote.
“While we accept that voter ID has now been legislated for, electoral administrators and returning officers should be given the appropriate time, resource, clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the electoral process without risking access to the vote.
“We are concerned that there is insufficient time to do this ahead of the May 2023 elections and for this reason are calling for the introduction of voter ID requirements to be delayed.”
Under the Elections Act, which became law in April, voters have to prove their identity at polling stations in order to vote, usually by showing their passport or driving licence.
Ministers have insisted the changes are needed to prevent voter fraud.
But the Electoral Commission says the UK has “low levels” of electoral fraud, with just nine convictions since 2017.
Opponents of the changes say the changes will unfairly target ethnic minority or low-income groups, who are less likely to have photo ID and so will be barred from voting.
Research by the Cabinet Office suggests that 42% of people with no photo ID will not apply for one, meaning millions could end up disenfranchised and unable to vote.
Asked by HuffPost UK today about the calls for the voter ID rollout to be delayed, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “I don’t believe there are any plans to delay its introduction.
“We believe it’s right to ensure there are protections in place against potential voter fraud.”
He said voter ID had worked “successfully” in Northern Ireland since 2003 and added: “We are working closely with councils to support the rollout.”
Lib Dem peer Baroness Pinnock said: “Safeguarding our democracy and our birthright to vote should be the priority of any responsible government. But, unless you have the right documents, this birthright will snatched away from you by the Conservative government.”
In June, HuffPost UK revealed how the government is spending £3.5 million on voter ID cards for people who do not have a passport or driving licence.
Labour shadow elections minister Alex Norris said: “When we stand in line to vote, we are more likely to be hit by lightning three times than to be queuing behind someone who is committing voter fraud. The government has created this needless voter ID requirement. It is a solution in search of a problem.
“Not only will it discriminate against ethnic minority and low-income groups, but we now learn that it is costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that could be far better spent during a cost of living crisis.”