Thousands sign petition calling for voter ID U-turn

‘One voter turned away is too many’

No ID, no entry

With the local elections just days away, a petition calling on the government to U-turn on its controversial voter ID rules, is gaining momentum.

The new rules mean that people in England must show photo identification for the first time to vote in the local elections.

Campaigners warn that passports and driving licences – which will be accepted as forms of ID at polling stations – are expensive options and will disenfranchise people from low-income families.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRC) confirms that constituents on lower incomes are much more likely not to have photo ID compared to richer potential voters – 1 percent compared to 6 percent. The anti-poverty charity warns that by adding more bureaucratic hurdles and costs to people who already face inequalities, the barrier will disenfranchise many low-income voters.

Over 119,000 people have added their name to the U-turn on voter ID campaign. Launched by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), campaigners for democratic rights and a democracy fit for the 21st century, the petition notes how the voter ID scheme risks the very principle of free and fair elections.

Over two million people lack photo ID in the UK, and the campaigners warn that the Tories’ ‘undemocratic plans risk blocking them from the ballot box.’

“One voter being turned away from a single polling station is one too many. Nobody should be turned away because their driving licence is still in their maiden name, or a poll worker thinks they don’t look like an old passport photo.

“With no right to appeal, the UK now has a more restrictive ID regime than many US states,” states the petition.

Last week, several campaign groups handed the petition signatures to 10 Downing Street. The Electoral Reform Society, Open Britain, and Unlock Democracy joined forces urging the government to scrap its plan which could see more than two million people without the valid photo ID locked out of the ballot box.

Parliamentarians from Labour, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats joined the campaigners outside No 10. Among them was Richard Burgon, Labour MP for Leeds East, and Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones, who described the Act as: “A disaster for democracy.”

UNISON has also repeated calls for the government to scrap the scheme, condemning the policy as ‘voter suppression’ and a ‘threat to our democracy.’

Warnings have also been made that awareness of the new rules has beeen too low, with only 70,000 (approx.) applications made for the free Voter Authority Certificate, which the government introduced to help the people who lack the right documentation.

Though as the JRF cautions, if you are working in an insecure job with unpredictable and long hours, or juggling multiple jobs and care responsibilities, and don’t necessarily have access to technology, or have come to mistrust or fear official systems, applying for the free Voter Card might be unlikely to be high on your list of priorities.

The ERC says it will keep raising awareness of the new rules and leading the campaign to scrap voter ID.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Electoral Reform Society

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