Along with 229 other unitary, metropolitan and district councils, High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) in Derbyshire is preparing for the upcoming local elections on May 4.
On top of their usual burden of tasks, council officers are also grappling with a brand new problem. For the first time, voters will need to produce an accepted form of photographic ID in order to exercise their democratic right.
A solution in search of a problem
The Conservative party has been relentlessly pursuing the introduction of voter ID for years. It is necessary, they say, to ensure the integrity of the electoral system. But is that really a problem?
We spoke to Joanna Collins, Green Party councillor on HPBC. She said, “This is a solution in search of a problem. In fact, there is very little electoral fraud in the UK, and none reported in High Peak.”
The data supports her statement. In the 2019 general election, 33 cases of alleged voter impersonation occurred, out of 58 million votes cast. That’s an incidence of 0.000057%.
Only 10,000 people
HPBC is promoting the Electoral Commission’s campaign to inform people but it hasn’t really taken off. Of the estimated 2.1 million people who do not currently have an accepted form of ID, only 10,000 have so far applied for the free Voter Authority Certificate (VAC) offered by the government.
Councillor Collins is dismayed by the situation:
“The information on the government website is clear,” she says, “but who knows that it is there? Surely the government should run a public information campaign about the new rules? If you don’t know you need voter ID, or can’t organise it in time, the implication is that you lose your democratic right to vote.”
What can I do?
If you don’t have any of them, don’t worry. It’s quick – and free – to sort this out.
The most straightforward way is to sign up for a postal vote. This doesn’t require a photograph and gives you a two-week window to vote by post. And even if you don’t get round to posting your vote, you can still take it to your polling station on election day. The deadline to apply for a postal vote is 18 April.
Or you could get a Voter Authority Certificate which can only be used for voting. Application is online and you need a digital photo of yourself and, ideally, your national insurance number. If you don’t know your national insurance number, the process takes a little longer. Again, this is quick and free but remember that the VAC is not a general ID card. It can only be used for voting. The deadline for applications is 25 April.
If you feel that a more widely-applicable card would be useful, then consider one of the available PASS cards such as CitizenCard. They can be used anywhere where proof of age is required. CitizenCard is currently offering their PASS card, (usually £15) for nothing.
Don’t let anyone rob you
The way this new requirement has been rushed in means that things may not go smoothly in May. There’s a risk of mayhem at the polling stations. If nothing else, the turn out – never overwhelming for local elections – is likely to be even lower than usual.
Whatever else you do, don’t let anyone rob you of your right to vote.