Free photo ID scheme for voting launched by government before law change comes into force for local elections

A free photo ID scheme has been launched by the government, before a law change comes into force requiring voters to prove who they are to cast their ballot.

New rules will be introduced in time for May's local elections. People will need to show either a passport, driving licence or one of the new "voter authority certificates" in order to vote.

The controversial legislation made its way through parliament last year, with opposition parties arguing it risked disenfranchising those without ID - who are often from harder to reach communities - and adding unnecessary barriers to democracy.

But the government insisted it would protect the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud.

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The Electoral Commission also warned ministers that bringing in the scheme by 2023 was neither "secure" nor "workable", according to a Freedom of Information request made by the Open Democracy website.

However, then-levelling up secretary Simon Clarke responded by saying rolling out the rule change before 2023's local elections provided an "opportunity to learn" before broader elections took place across the whole of the UK.

People hoping to vote using the new IDs will need to go to the government website and enter their National Insurance number, while also uploading a recent digital photo of themselves.

The Electoral Commission has launched a public awareness campaign to let people know about the change, but critics still worry about the impact on voters.

'Dangerous and costly policy'

Jon Narcross, from the Electoral Reform Society, said the government was "setting our elections up to fail".

"Voter ID is the biggest change to how we vote in a generation," he added.

"Putting up barriers to voting is the wrong thing to do but despite the risks that millions lack the necessary ID ministers pushed ahead with their plans anyway.

"It's time ministers thought again about voter ID and scrapped this dangerous and costly policy - nobody should be turned away from the polling station for not having the right sort of photo ID."

But a government spokesperson said: "We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure.

"Everyone eligible to vote will have the opportunity to do so and 98% of electors already have an accepted form of identification.

"Photo identification has been used in Northern Ireland elections since 2003 and we're working closely with the sector to support the rollout and funding the necessary equipment and staffing."