Voter ID plans labelled a 'bureaucratic sledgehammer to crack a non-existent nut'

Voters have gone to the polls in Babergh and Mid Suffolk by-elections

If enacted, the Elections Bill would require voters to show ID in polling stations for parliamentary, local, and police and crime commissioner elections - Credit: Archant

Mid Suffolk council has narrowly voted to oppose government plans to introduce voter ID requirements for elections.

The Elections Bill 2021, currently being considered in Westminster, proposes requirements for polling station staff to check photo identification of voters before they can cast a ballot.

On Monday night, the Green and Liberal Democrat (GLD) group at Mid Suffolk District Council brought forward a motion for the council to oppose plans, and pledged to explore low-cost and no-cost options for residents without forms of photo ID.

The motion, narrowly approved by 16 to 14, means the council will now write to ministers outlining its objection.

Andy Mellen, GLD group leader, said often people without photo ID such as driving licences or passports were often the poorest in the community – unable to afford to travel or drive.

“We are just putting an extra hurdle in the way of them expressing their democratic right,” he said.

“We don’t need anything else to discourage people from voting – it’s very disappointing but levels of voter engagement are pretty low, especially for local elections.

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“Voter ID is an answer in search of a question, it’s a very expensive and bureaucratic sledgehammer to crack a non-existent nut.”

Members who opposed the plan said it would add red tape and expense to the council, which would be required to ensure adults without photo ID could be provided with one to enable them to vote.

Figures confirmed that there had been no reports, allegations, charges or convictions in Mid Suffolk over voter fraud, while nationally, in 2019, there were only 34 allegations of more than 58million votes cast.

According to Electoral Commission data, voter confidence in existing arrangements was at 87%.

It is estimated around 4% of the adult population have no form of photo ID.

Conservative and Independent group members who backed the bill said it was no different to opening a bank account.

Conservative Matthew Hicks said not backing the bill would be a “retrograde step” and added: “It’s an ambitious set of plans to ensure elections are transparent, fair and accountable.

“A successful small-scale trial was worked on and that worked extremely well, and that was to stop impersonation and voter fraud, and gave improved confidence to the electoral system.

“I think at the heart of this is maintaining public confidence in the election process.”