Government must press pause on plans or put free and fair elections in 2023 at risk

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Tuesday 13th December.
  • Contact Jon Narcross, / 07794728820 for interviews or more information.

Campaigners have warned of ‘polling day pandemonium’ as concerns grow over the implementation of photo voter ID – calling on the government to pause its plans.

With less than six months until next year’s polls, the Democracy Defence Coalition – a coalition of pro-democracy campaign groups including the Electoral Reform Society, Fair Vote UK, Open Britain and Unlock Democracy have joined the growing number of organisations calling on the government to pause their plans ahead of May’s local elections.

The group have also written to Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, seeking a meeting to discuss their concerns.

The call comes as an attempt in the House of Lords to block the plans was defeated when peers votes 210 – 63 to reject a Liberal Democrat ‘fatal motion’ that would have prevented the implementation of the policy ahead of May’s elections [1].

Campaigners warn the proposals risk ‘pandemonium on polling day’ unless the government pause their plans which could see thousands of voters turned away from polling stations and staff left unable to administer the new ID regime on election day.

A recent report by the Constitution Society found election officials across English councils are worried they won’t be able to ensure a free and fair vote in May’s local elections – a majority of council staff (57%) were “very or extremely worried” about delivering next year’s elections with voter ID with over half saying the changes would make it “much more difficult” to do their jobs [2].

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, Electoral Reform Society and spokesperson for the Democracy Defence Coalition said:

“We’ve long warned about the risks of voter ID – and with less than six months until the first set of elections with ID requirements, there are few signs that ministers have taken these concerns seriously or put plans in place to implement their own policy effectively.

“The government is heading towards pandemonium on polling day if these plans are not stopped. If they refuse to hit pause, then there’s a real risk that these elections will break down at the ballot box, with thousands of voters turned away and polling staff overwhelmed.

“Chaos in May would not only throw the results of these elections into question but also undermine public faith in our democracy and the integrity of our elections – something the government claims these plans are designed to protect.”

Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy and spokesperson for the Democracy Defence Coalition said:

“Local authority leaders and election administrators are all sounding the alarm when it comes to voter ID.  But their concerns continue to fall on deaf ears. When those responsible for delivering our elections are joining the chorus of voices calling for a re-think, it’s time the government took notice.

“Serious questions remain about the ability to implement these plans – from finding suitable polling stations, the readiness of new IT systems and the ability to recruit and train the staff needed to run polling day, let alone the lack of awareness amongst voters for the changes. It’s no surprise councils up and down the country are rightly worried about what might happen on election day.

“Despite this, the government have steadfastly refused to take these concerns on board and until they do, they seem intent on setting these elections up for failure. It’s time ministers recognised the real risk to the integrity of our elections – their own dangerous policy of photo voter ID.”

Opposition to the government’s plans has been growing in recent months as the mountain of essential work still to be done has become clear. This week the Local Government Association became the latest organisation to express serious concerns about the implementation of voter ID ahead of May’s elections – calling for the government to delay [3].

In a statement yesterday, their Conservative Chairman, Cllr James Jamieson, warned that electoral administrators must be given time, resources and guidance for any changes to avoid ‘risking access to the vote’.
Concern is also growing amongst electoral administrators responsible for implementing the policy with both the Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators warning the current timetable brings ‘huge risks’ and that they would support a government decision to delay the introduction of ID requirements [4]