Hundreds of thousands of people could be denied their right to vote unless new compulsory voter ID rules are delayed, a former Conservative cabinet minister has warned.
Raising the alarm about the impact of forcing voters to produce ID in England for the first time at May’s local elections, Tory grandee David Davis urged the government to pause, or risk disenfranchising the poor and elderly.
The former cabinet minister told Sky News that the uptake of free photo ID among those who do not already have one – such as a driver’s licence, a blue badge or a passport – was worryingly low.
The government’s own data shows just over 48,000 people have registered online in the past two months, compared to estimates of between 925,000 and 3.5 million people without existing ID.
“The system they put in place to deal with the problem of those with no ID has not worked,” he said.
“I would at the very least just delay it and say, ‘look we will do this in due course when we’ve got enough of the people in that vulnerable group covered’.
“If they do that, at least it avoids the worst outcome which is thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people are prevented from voting and exercising their democratic right.”
Yesterday was the deadline for people to register to vote in the local elections, which are now just two weeks away.
A total of 53,849 applications to take part in the elections were submitted in the last 24 hours before the cut-off, the highest for a single day so far this year.
More than 8,000 council seats in England are being contested on 4 May.
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Ministers have insisted that the rule change in voting rules is necessary to prevent in-person voter fraud despite the vanishingly low number of cases – there was just one incident which initiated court proceedings across all UK elections last year, according to the Electoral Commission.
In response, Mr Davis said: “It’s preventing something that doesn’t happen.”
“This is an answer to a problem that’s not there. Are we actually going to discriminate against the old and the poor in our election system?”
A government spokesperson said: “We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure. Photo identification has been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003.
“The vast majority of people already have a form of acceptable identification. We’re urging anyone who doesn’t to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate as soon as possible and we expect more people to apply over the next few weeks.
“We’re working closely with the sector to support the rollout and are funding the necessary equipment and staffing for the change in requirements.”
The deadline for applying for free voter ID in time to vote in May’s local elections is 5pm on 25 April.