People have been denied the right to vote in local elections for the first time due to a controversial new pilot of checks that force voters to prove their identities before casting their ballot.
A 76-year-old man who has lived in Bromley for 40 years told The Independent he was “shocked” to be turned away because he did not have a bank card or passport. “This is a nonsense scheme,” Peter White added.
Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking are also running the pilot schemes, which have long raised fears that people will be wrongly disenfranchised.
Mr White's wife, Kathleen Milward, said that although she does have the relevant identification, she will not be voting out of principle.
"I'm angry because I don't believe in carrying ID. Having the vote is a basic human right in a democracy, and this is supposed to be a democracy,” the 72-year-old added.
"I'm choosing not to vote, and I've never done that before. I think people who have problems with their ID will certainly be disenfranchised, even if they've lived here for many years.
"As we know from this last week or two, there are a lot of people out there who are in this situation. I have to make a stand from that point of view too, because I know that they will be either disenfranchised or will not feel happy to come down and vote."
Under the pilot scheme, voters are required to produce accepted identity documents including a passport, driving licence, European ID card or Oyster 60+ London Pass.
If the voter does not possess any of the documents specified, they are required to present two forms of non-photographic ID, like a debit card, bank statement or utility bill.
Cleo Lighfoot, who has lived in Bromley for 25 years, said she was infuriated by the fact that the government was bringing in voter ID checks, as it meant her son was unable to vote.
“My son doesn’t have a driver’s license or a passport because he cant afford it – what will he do? He hasn’t got ID; he won’t be able to vote. So I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said.
“It’s stopping people voting... is it the Conservatives doing this because they know that people who are wealthy are going to have ID and the poorer people aren’t?
“I don’t know, but you do wonder if it’s all to do with politics.”
Other voters were in favour of the scheme, saying it showed that the government was “cracking down” on people breaking the rules.
Mark Webb, who came to vote with his wife Debora, was initially told he couldn't cast his ballot after he turned up with no ID, but he said this was a "good" thing.
“My wife told me I had to have an ID, but I didn’t hear her because I was in the garden. So I went there and they said I wasn’t allowed to vote,“ he said.
“It’s good. People can make out they’re someone else. I think it’s a good idea. Even saying to them that I’m married to my wife, they wouldn’t let me vote, and I think that’s good.
“Too many people are getting away with murder these days, and it’s about time it was cracked down on.”
Ministers claimed the scheme will help combat electoral fraud but critics argue it will suppress turnout, particularly among the elderly, migrant communities, asylum seekers and disadvantaged people who have the right to vote may have no stable residence or the proof required.
Demanding a rethink of the policy in March, a group of 40 charities and academics said Electoral Commission figures showed there were only 28 allegations of impersonation out of almost 45 million votes in 2017, and one conviction.
“Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons,” said a letter to the government.
“Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless."
During polling on Thursday, Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said: “There is anecdotal evidence emerging from the pilot areas that people have been denied their democratic right to vote because of the voter ID requirements.
“This is exactly what we feared: that this draconian measure would result in blameless individuals being disenfranchised.
“Electoral fraud is a serious matter, but requiring voters to show ID is not the right approach. There has not been a single example of personation – the type of fraud the trials are intended to prevent – in any of the pilot areas in the last decade.”
Cat Smith, Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement, accused the government of implementing a "mistaken policy" with the "full knowledge that voters could be disenfranchised".
“This was always going to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Electoral Commission found that out of nearly 45 million votes cast in the local and general election in 2017, there were only 28 cases of alleged voter fraud," she said.
“The fact that voters were denied their right to vote is proof that voter ID has no place in our democracy.“
Arguing that the measures were necessary, Chloe Smith, minister for the constitution, said local authorities could help people find the documents required and "eligible voters who have none of the required identification will be accommodated for".
She added: “Voter ID is an important step to ensuring the public can have confidence in the systems that underpin our democratic system.
"We already ask that people prove who they are in order to collect a parcel from the post office or rent a car. We believe it is proportionate and reasonable to take the same approach to protect voting rights."
The government pointed out that many other countries require ID to vote, including Northern Ireland, which brought in the measure in 1985. There have been no reports of voter impersonation since 2003.
Across England, more than 4,000 seats are being contested in around 150 councils – including all 32 London boroughs, as well as every ward in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.
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