Voter ID UK: what are the new election rules, how many people do not have ID and how do I apply for a free ID card?

From May you will need an approved form of photo ID to vote - but millions do not have any.

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UK voters have just two days left to register for a free voter ID certificate if they want to vote in this May's local elections and do not own a form of photographic ID.

Next week's local elections in England will be the first in which voters need to present a form of approved photo ID (or, failing that, a new Voter Authority Certificate) before they can cast their vote.

In April 2022 MPs passed a new law making voter ID mandatory. The move is highly controversial, with widespread concerns that many could find themselves disenfranchised because they do not own ID. Local elections in England will be impacted by the rule change, as well as national elections across Britain.

The Electoral Commission, the independent body that oversees elections in the UK, is running a major public awareness campaign to educate voters about the new rules – but a poll for Byline Times earlier this year found 60% of the public still did not know they would soon be unable to vote without photo ID.

With just under two weeks to go until the next local elections are held on 4 May 2023, we take a look at the new rules, why they are so controversial, and explain what you need to do to ensure you keep your vote.

What are the new voter ID rules?

Until now, voters in England, Wales and Scotland have been able to turn up at polling stations, give their name and address, and cast their vote. Starting with the local elections in May, voters will now need to bring specific, approved forms of photographic ID with them.

The ID does not need to be in date, but the photo will need to be a true likeness. It will be up to polling station clerks to judge whether your ID looks like you.

In England, the rules will apply to general elections, parliamentary by-elections, recall petitions (where the electorate want to remove an elected representative from office), police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections, and local council elections. In Wales, they will apply for general elections, UK parliamentary by-elections, recall petitions, and police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections. They will not apply to Senedd or local council elections.

In Scotland, the rules apply to just general elections, UK parliamentary by-elections, and recall petitions, but not to Scottish Parliament or local council elections. There are no rule changes in Northern Ireland, where photo ID has been required since 2003.

What type of photo ID will be accepted?

Voters will have a range of options of ID that they can bring with them on the day, including passports, driving licences and some travel passes.

The full list is as follows:

  • A passport issued by the UK, any Channel Island, Isle of Man, a British Overseas Territory, a European Economic Area (EEA) state or a Commonwealth country
  • A driving licence issued by the UK, any Channel Island, Isle of Man, a British Overseas Territory, or a European Economic Area (EEA) state
  • A disabled person’s bus pass
  • An Oyster 60+ card
  • A freedom pass
  • A Scottish National Entitlement Card
  • A 60 and over Welsh concessionary travel card
  • A disabled person’s Welsh concessionary travel card
  • A senior smartpass issued in Northern Ireland
  • A registered blind smartpass or blind person’s smartpass issued in Northern Ireland
  • A War disablement smart pass issued in Northern Ireland
  • A 60+ smartpass issued in Northern Ireland
  • A 60+ smartpass issued in Northern Ireland
  • A half fare smartpass issued in Northern Ireland
  • An identity card bearing the Proof of Age Standards Scheme hologram (a PASS card)
  • A biometric immigration document 
  • A Ministry of Defence form 90 (defence identity card)
  • A national identity card issued by an EEA state
  • An electoral identity card issued in Northern Ireland
  • An anonymous elector’s document

You will need to show the original version. A photocopy will not be accepted. If you vote by post, you will not need photo ID.

What do I do if I don’t have ID – can I get ID for free?

If you do not own any of the IDs that are on the approved list then you will be able to apply for a free voter authority certificate (VAC), which will be issued by your local council.

This will be accepted as your ID by polling staff.

How do I apply for a free voter ID card?

You can apply for a free VAC document online via the UK government website by following this link. You must first be registered to vote, and the name on your VAC should match the name that appears on the electoral roll.

You will need to supply your name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number if you have one, and a passport-style photo. You do not need to state your gender, and the VAC will not show this.

The deadline for applying if you want to vote in England’s local elections is 5pm on Tuesday 25 April. You can also apply by post, by filling out a paper form and sending it to your local electoral registration office. Some people may be able to apply in person at their registration office. The Electoral Commission has a helpline, which can be reached on 0800 328 0280.

How many people do not have ID?

According to research commissioned by the UK government in 2021, 2% of eligible voters in Great Britain do not own any of the accepted forms of ID, while 4% say they do not have photo ID that looks like them. That could mean anywhere between 1.8 and 2.3 million voters not having ID, based on the latest population estimates for England, Wales and Scotland.

Some groups of people - including disabled, LGBT, and unemployed people – are much less likely to have the necessary ID. NationalWorld has taken a look at which communities stand to be impacted by the new voter ID rules.

Why is voter ID being introduced?

Voter ID is designed to stamp out voter personation – the crime of the crime of pretending to be someone else when you vote. The Conservatives pledged to bring in some kind of voter ID – although not necessarily photo ID – in their 2017 manifesto, then announced plans for photographic ID during the Queen’s speech to Parliament in 2021.

This followed a 2016 report by the government’s then anti-corruption champion, Lord Pickles, which recommended the government should consider introducing some kind of voter ID requirement, amid concerns that our electoral system was all trust-based and not secure enough. The Electoral Commission, which is the independent body that oversees elections in the UK, has also been recommending some kind of ID since 2014. International election observers.

What do critics say about the new voter ID rules?

The move is controversial, with critics arguing there is not a significant problem with voter personation, and that public trust in our electoral process is already high. The Electoral Reform Society campaign group says voter fraud is “vanishingly rare” and that the introduction of a photo ID process “feels very much to us like a solution looking for a problem”.

Between 2015 and 2020 there were only three convictions for voter fraud in the UK, and six cautions, according to the Electoral Commission. The highest number of accusations of voter fraud came in 2016 when there were 44 cases. That year 33.6 million votes were cast in the UK’s Brexit referendum, and over 10 million in local and regional elections in England, Wales and Scotland.

The Electoral Reform Society also says that both the number of people registered to vote, and the turnout at elections, is already too low, and the government should be focused on removing barriers to voting, not adding more.

Some critics had also urged the government to consider adding alternative forms of ID such as council tax bills.

What do councils say?

The Local Government Association (LGA) , which represents councils in England, says it is concerned there is insufficient time to prepare for the changes ahead of May’s elections and has asked the government for a delay.

It pointed to something known as the Gould principle, which states election rules should not be changed within six months of a vote – a principle that has previously been accepted by a UK government, in 2007. But detailed legislation setting out how the VAC  scheme will work was only passed by Parliament on 12 December, with less than five months to go before polling day.

What does the government say?

The government says that “we cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure”.

Photo ID has also been used in Northern Ireland since 2003, it says, adding that it is “working closely with the sector to support the rollout and funding the necessary equipment and staffing”.

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