Only 10,000 people in Great Britain have applied for government-issued voter ID

Looks like many people will be turned away from voting in person in May. Does ID apply to postal votes?

A backwards step for democracy. – Owl

Peter Walker 

Only about 10,000 people in Great Britain have applied for a government-issued voter ID since the scheme opened, just 0.5% of the total who might need the document, the Guardian has learned.

The slow take-up, which could leave hundreds of thousands of people disfranchised at local elections in England on 4 May, will add to worries that the scheme is being rushed through and could cause chaos.

Subsequently, under the new scheme photo ID will need to be shown in England, Scotland and Wales for all parliamentary elections, and for police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. Northern Ireland has a longstanding voter ID system, introduced owing to historic electoral abuse by sectarian groups.

As of last Friday, just over 10,000 people had used a central government portal to apply for one of the certificates, which are then issued for free by local councils, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told election officials in a briefing on Tuesday.

This covered the first fortnight of the scheme to issue the so-called voter authority certificates, a period that included a major advertising campaign by the Electoral Commission to inform people about the new voting rules.

According to earlier government research, close to 2 million voters do not possess photo ID that has a recognisable picture of them, as is required under the new law. At the current rate it would take eight years to issue the documents to all those who could need them.

While the Electoral Commission has pledged to push ahead with public information efforts, the very low initial number suggests large numbers of people are ignorant about the new voting system and could be turned away from polling stations in the English local elections.

The Electoral Commission has previously written to the government saying the timetable meant the local elections could not be conducted in a “fully secure, accessible and workable” manner.

A 2021 study by the Electoral Commission found that the proportion of potential voters without usable ID was especially low among more disadvantaged groups, such as 11% for those who were unemployed, and 8% among people with a disability.

Alex Norris, the shadow minister for elections, said the rollout of the scheme was a “complete and utter shambles and reeks of government incompetence”. He added: “Not only is the Tory voter ID plan completely unworkable, it is unnecessary and set to lock millions of people out of voting.

“The Conservatives have got their priorities all wrong. During a cost of living crisis when people are struggling to make ends meet, it is an outrage that they would rather spend money on disenfranchising them.”

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said the initial statistics showed it was “encouraging that people are already aware of the voter authority certificate and are applying early”.

They added: “The commission is working closely with civil society organisations and local authorities to build awareness and support those more likely to need the free ID. The deadline for applying for free ID ahead of the May elections in England is 25 April, so there is still plenty of time, but we’re encouraging voters to check now if they need it so they can apply in good time.”

A government spokesperson said that the “vast majority of eligible voters” already had accepted ID, and that those without had until 25 April to apply. They added: “We are pleased that so many people have applied within the first two weeks and will continue to work with the Electoral Commission to ensure all voters are aware of the new requirement.”