Local elections 2023: Voting under way in England’s local elections as photo ID required for first time

Voters across England will be required to show a form of photo identification at polling stations

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Voters heading to the polls to cast their ballots in the local elections across England will be required to show photo identification for the first time.

The change was piloted regionally before the national rollout for the elections on Thursday (4 May), but the move has been widely criticised as it is feared it could deter young people and ethnic minorities from voting.

Elections are being held in 230 of England’s 317 local authorities with more than 8,000 council seats up for grabs, ranging from small rural areas to larger towns and cities. Polls are also taking place to choose mayors in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

But elections are not taking place in all parts of England this year, with no contest being held in London and Birmingham, along with other areas including Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

Voters across England will be required to show a form of photo ID at polling stations (Photo: Getty Images)Voters across England will be required to show a form of photo ID at polling stations (Photo: Getty Images)
Voters across England will be required to show a form of photo ID at polling stations (Photo: Getty Images)

It is the first time new voter ID rules have applied to all of England ahead of the change coming into force for UK general elections from October. Voters in Northern Ireland are already required to present photo ID at elections.

The policy means it will be compulsory for those showing up to polling stations to present a form of photo ID, such as a passport, driving licence or blue badge, when arriving at the polling stations before being handed a voting slip.

Other forms of ID that will be accepted include biometric residence permits, defence identity cards, and national identity cards issued by the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

Questions have been raised as to why bus and travel passes for older and disabled people are being accepted as photo IDs, but young people’s travel cards will not be permitted.


Professor Sir John Curtice, a polling expert, told the BBC there was “perhaps… a little bit of a partisan shadow about the way in which it has been implemented” given young people are “more inclined to vote Labour these days”.

The new policy is opposed by Labour, with the party encouraging voters to register for a postal vote which is not subject to the same voter ID regulations, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. But ministers have argued the change is required to reduce electoral fraud.

The UK government estimates that around 2% of the population do not have an accepted form of voter ID and in the run-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. The deadline for these certificates has now passed, but a Conservative MP highlighted that those included in that 2% of the electorate could still vote by proxy.

Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant said: “If you’re one of the 2% who doesn’t have suitable ID and forgot to apply for a free voter authority certificate, you can still vote by appointing a proxy — who must have the correct photo ID. As late as 5pm on Thursday, polling day, you can appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf. There really is no excuse to give up your democratic rights.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer argued it was the responsibility for 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.”

On the eve of the polls opening the Electoral Commission reminded voters to remember to bring photo ID with them and confirmed that people can use an expired ID at polling stations – as long as it still looks like them.

Craig Westwood, director of communications at the commission, said that Electoral Commission research found that around 96% of people already have an eligible photo ID. He added: “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 7am to 10pm. If you don’t remember your ID when you arrive at a polling station, you can return with it later in the day.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has predicted a “hard night” for his party at the local elections, but said the Conservatives were now moving away from “box set drama” politics.

The local elections are also likely to be the final set of polls before the next general election, with the results expected to give an indication of whether Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could be on course for Downing Street.