‘Dangerous’ plan could discourage people from voting, campaigner claims

Neil Coughlan has launched a legal challenge against the government's voter ID plans. Picture: COURT

Neil Coughlan has launched a legal challenge against the government's voter ID plans. Picture: COURTESY OF LEIGH DAY - Credit: Archant

A “deeply concerned” voter is today launching a bid to stop people being required to bring proof of identity to the ballot box – amid fears it could discourage people from voting.

The government is trialling voter ID pilots in 11 local authorities across the country in this year’s local elections, where people will be required to bring proof of who they are before casting their ballots.

At the moment, electors just have to give polling station volunteers their name and address and do not even have to bring their polling card.

The government says the move, if rolled out nationally, will help to tackle voter fraud – but 64-year-old Neil Coughlan, from Witham, disagrees – arguing that it could damage democracy.

He has launched a legal challenge against the move, with a judicial review being heard at the High Court in London on Thursday, March 7 and Friday, March 8.

Mr Coughlan, who is fundraising for the case via CrowdJustice, said: “Universal Suffrage - the right to vote for all adult citizens, regardless of property ownership, income, race or ethnicity - is a concept that lies at the very heart of our democracy.

“I have brought this legal case because I feel duty bound to challenge a government scheme that would erode our hard-won fundamental rights, merely to combat a problem that barely exists.

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“It is the poor and vulnerable who will be affected by this - people who already struggle to have their voices heard.

“On March 7 I will be attending the High Court to defend our democracy against the government’s dangerous plans.”

Tom Short, solicitor at Leigh Day who is representing Mr Coughlan, said: “Our client is deeply concerned that the requirement to produce ID in order to vote is likely to prevent or discourage prospective voters from exercising their right to take part in the democratic process and will only serve to further disenfranchise marginalised communities.

“At the hearing on March 7 and 8 we will argue on Mr Coughlan’s behalf that by imposing restrictions on who can vote the Cabinet Office is acting outside the powers given to it by parliament to approve pilot schemes aimed at increasing voter participation.

“We will argue that any attempts to introduce voter ID requirements in elections ought to be subject to the proper scrutiny of parliament.”

The Cabinet Office has been contacted for comment.

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