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Electoral Commission committee

Volume 731: debated on Thursday 27 April 2023

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter ID

8. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the implementation of voter ID in (a) Scotland, (b) Wales and (c) England ahead of local and national elections. (904707)

The Committee discussed the commission’s work supporting the implementation of the voter ID requirement at its recent public evidence session in March. A transcript of that session is available on the Committee’s website. The commission continues to support voters, campaigners and electoral administrators ahead of the implementation of the voter ID requirement at local elections in England next week. Its research shows that public awareness of the requirement increased from 22% in December to 76% at the end of March. Voter ID will also be required at police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales, UK parliamentary by-elections, and recall petitions from 3 May, and in general elections from October. The commission will run further public awareness activities and provide guidance for electoral administrators ahead of future elections, including in Scotland.

The SNP has consistently opposed the requirement for voter ID since it was brought in under the Elections Act 2022. The requirement is about to take effect for the first time in England. It will effectively disenfranchise many people, including disabled people and people from minority ethnic backgrounds. Given that only about 50,000 people have applied for the free ID certificate, while the number of voters without the necessary ID is thought to be about 2 million, and given the gulf between the enfranchisement of older and younger voters, what steps will the Electoral Commission take to make sure that all people, even those who do not vote Conservative, can take part in elections?

The commission has said that voter authority certificate applications were lower than might have been expected. That may reflect the number of people wishing to vote in the elections, the take-up of postal or proxy voting, or some voters not having taken action in time to meet the deadline, as the hon. Lady suggests. The commission will consider the levels of take-up and the reasons for them in its evaluation of the implementation of the requirement for voter ID, and that will include detailed public survey work. The commission has been working with key groups who have been identified as needing additional support to navigate voter ID requirements, including the over-85s; people with sight loss or learning disabilities; Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; people experiencing homelessness or living in refuges; trans and non-binary people; and anonymous voters.

May I raise the issue of the immunocompromised—people who are still shielding for fear of catching covid? If they turn up to a polling station next Thursday, they will be asked to remove their mask. What guidance has the Electoral Commission brought forward to protect the immunocompromised?

I thank my hon. Friend for that interesting question. The guidance that the Electoral Commission has given to polling clerks is that face coverings will need to be removed so that identity can be verified. If he wishes to arrange a meeting with the Electoral Commission, I would be happy to co-ordinate that, as I know that this is an issue that he feels passionately about.

The additional voter processing will place more requirements on staff at polling stations. Has that resulted in any problems for local authorities in recruiting polling station staff?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct: electoral administrators have been reporting difficulties to the Electoral Commission in recruiting polling station staff. That was the case in recent elections, too, but the issue has been exacerbated by the new role that there will be in administering voter ID requirements. Local authorities are working to address recruitment difficulties, including by calling on staff who work in areas that do not have elections in May to work in the areas that do. Of course, there is the additional challenge of needing a woman at every polling station to verify the identity of women who wear face coverings for religious reasons.