A change in the law that means voters will need to show photo ID at polling stations has been branded “thinly veiled voter suppression” by the Liberal Democrats.
The new requirements will apply to the local elections taking place in Bath and North East Somerset in May 2023.
Residents will be asked to show their identification documents to poll clerks to obtain ballots at polling stations.
The Liberal Democrats have warned that the law change risks disenfranchising many people who don’t have a photo ID.
Lansdown Councillor Mark Elliott commented: “These new rules are completely unnecessary and create a new barrier to residents exercising their democratic right to vote.
“The Government’s claim that it is combating voter fraud is baseless. In 2019 there was just one conviction for in-person voter fraud in the entire country.
“Clearly the intention is to reduce turnout amongst voters who are less likely to have one of the approved forms of ID.
“Coincidentally, these are voters who are less likely to vote Conservative. This is a fundamentally illiberal policy imposed by an unethical government.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has yet to publish the full list of acceptable forms of identification, however, driving licences, passports and bus passes will be included. Postal voting arrangements will not be affected.
An estimated 3.5 million voters across the country, including 2,700 in Bath and North East Somerset, have no photo ID, however, these residents will be able to apply to the Council for a ‘Voter Authority Certificate’ to prove their identity.
The Local Government Association has called for voter ID requirements to be delayed, due to concerns that there is insufficient time to implement changes ahead of the May 2023 elections.
Bathwick Councillor Manda Rigby said: “Councils face a huge challenge to communicate the changes, train staff, review polling stations and process potentially thousands of ID applications over the coming months.
“On top of all this, electoral staff may be at risk of abuse from being forced to act as ‘bouncers at the ballot box’.
“Clearly, local authorities must act in accordance with legislation, but this is all an enormous waste of money and resources when we’re facing spiralling costs and rising demand for services.
“I support the call for implementation to be delayed, but even better would be for the government to see sense and repeal this unnecessary and undemocratic law.”
The Liberal Democrat party characterise the new requirements as “nothing more than the Conservative Government’s thinly veiled attempt to suppress the votes of people across the UK”.
Bath MP Wera Hobhouse added: “This whole policy is ‘solving’ a completely non-existent issue. The only outcome will be putting more barriers in front of already marginalised groups as they try to exercise their democratic rights.
“For the Conservatives to put a tremendous amount of energy into this during a cost-of-living crisis, and then pile more pressure onto local authority budgets through the implementation of this policy, is infuriating.
“It shows their policy agenda does not match up with the priorities of local people and the massive challenges we collectively face.
“I know my colleagues on the Council will work diligently to make sure everyone is informed of what they need to have their say come election day.
“These Trumpian measures have no place in British democracy, and we will fight to make sure everyone can have their voice heard.”