Government Offers No Dedicated Cash for Councils to Warn People they will Need Voter ID in May Elections
Councils could have to choose between hiring extra staff to implement the change or informing voters that their vote is at risk, Byline Times has learned
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The Government has provided no ring-fenced money for councils to inform people that they will only be able to vote in May’s local elections if they have photo ID, Byline Times can reveal.
According to the Government, £4.75 million of funding has been provided to local authorities to support “additional engagement” with voters over the change. But it has not specified a dedicated amount to be spent solely on spreading the word to the electorate about the requirement for voter ID at polling stations. Any money that councils will also have to spend on hiring extra staff, training and admin to implement the change coming from this same pot.
And the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, has been given £5.6 million for an awareness-raising advertising campaign which it launched on Monday – despite the fact voters are not yet able to register for a ‘free’ government ID, to be provided by councils, which is viewed as crucial to the policy working.
It is understood that the online service for applications is due to go live next Monday 16 January, while paper applications can also be submitted from that date, and that the Electoral Commission started its campaign early in the hope it could boost awareness ahead of the application process going live.
Several million Brits lack appropriate photo identification, with low-income and some ethnic minority groups among the most at risk of being disenfranchised. Local authorities had asked for funding to enable them to send a mailing to all households about the introduction of voter ID – but this request was rejected by the Government, Byline Times understands.
When asked about money for local councils to raise awareness of the change, a Government spokesperson told Byline Times: “We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure. Everyone eligible to vote will have the opportunity to do so and 98% of electors already have an accepted form of identification.
“Photo identification has been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003 and we’re working closely with the sector to support the roll-out and funding the necessary equipment and staffing.”
But Shadow Minister for Elections, Alex Norris MP, said the roll-out of voter ID is a “complete shambles” and that not only is the plan “completely unworkable, it is unnecessary and set to lock millions of people out of voting”.
Democracy groups have been warning that Britain faces a “botched roll-out” of the controversial voter ID law, ahead of its introduction for local elections in England in just over 110 days.
There does not appear to have been any dedicated national newspaper or broadcast coverage of the Electoral Commission’s awareness campaign launch, at the time of writing, with some council sources arguing that they are best placed to communicate with voters.
The Democracy Defence Coalition – a network of leading pro-democracy campaign groups – has said that a shambolic roll-out of the plans could cause tens of thousands of voters to be turned away from the polling station.
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Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, told Byline Times that the non-ring fenced funding offered to councils for the change “isn’t enough” and that there will be no mailout to households funded by the Government telling people they need to sign up for photo ID if they don’t have one.
“One of the big success stories of the voter ID pilots [several years ago] was the communications campaign to every household saying ‘this is coming’,” Mr Stanyon said. “That would be going on now – but there isn’t any funding for household communications.
“There’s not enough for local comms campaigns in the funding allocations… Grants are not ring-fenced. Councils could use the grant for comms – but that would be balanced against fewer staff in polling stations or cuts elsewhere.”
Asked whether the roll-out will still go ahead, Mr Stanyon said “we have gone past the point of no return” and that “lots of work has gone in… To unpick that will be as difficult as rolling with it”.
In November, it was revealed that the Electoral Commission had privately warned the Government that its plans for implementation of the policy are neither “secure” nor “workable” by May’s elections. Independent voices such as the Local Government Association and the Association of Electoral Administrators have also shared concerns over the speed with which ministers have forced the policy through.
Tom Brake, director of campaign group Unlock Democracy, told Byline Times: “Photo voter ID was a solution in search of a problem… It is now a growing problem in need of a solution.
“To avoid a real threat to the integrity of our elections in May this year, and thousands being turned away from polling stations, the Government is going to have to foot the bill for a major publicity campaign. Every household needs a letter to drop on their doormat explaining these new rules.”
Mark Kieran from the Democracy Defence Coalition said ministers have ignored countless warnings over the plans and that “we still see no sign of the Government website to request a free ID”. The Government “continues to risk disenfranchising millions of voters through its own mismanagement,” he added.
“This is just the latest sign the Government is setting up our elections to fail with its unnecessary voter ID policy. Far from improving the integrity of our elections, a badly botched roll-out of these new rules risks significantly undermining them.”
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “We want to ensure our public awareness campaign has as much time as possible to reach voters with messages about the new ID requirement before the May elections. We are encouraging voters to check they have an accepted form of ID, and for those that do not, applications for free ID are expected to open next week.
“As part of our voter ID campaign, we have created resources that local authorities can use to help raise awareness of the new requirement, including posters, leaflets and social media assets.”
The Government claims that voter ID is necessary to maintain trust in UK elections. However, there is no evidence of widespread fraud and critics have warned that the proposals constitute a form of ‘gerrymandering’ – warping elections in the governing party’s supposed favour.
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