Report of the Electoral Registration Officer
The Executive Director for Finance, Assets and Regeneration introduced the report, which followed a Council motion in December 2022, requesting an investigation of the risk of disenfranchisement as a result of the government’s new voter ID requirements. The reports articulates the actions being undertaken to comply, and the recommendations to appoint three deputy electoral officers and use £20k of the Elections Equalisation Earmarked Reserve to further promote the voter ID requirement in future elections.
In response to Members’ questions, officers provided the following responses:
- door-to-door canvassing tends to be for those people who have not returned their household enquiry forms and officers will rely on information received from canvassers as the forms are returned to understand whether those are the people less likely to have appropriate ID;
- rather than second-guess how many people in Cheltenham may be disenfranchised, we need to rely on the Electoral Commission report later this year about the broad national picture;
- secondary legislation in October will require postal voters to provide further, verified information, adding an layer to the process and requiring them to reapply each time. This which will result in further work for both the elections team and postal voters;
- everyone who may be affected will be contacted, with all details included on the form. People will also be able to apply for postal votes on line, which will make it more accessible;
- while it is true that the council is having to pay for this government initiative, New Burdens Funding cannot be used to cover all costs as this is specifically for staff training. The council has funding earmarked for this type of activity. Some of the extra expenditure will be covered by New Burdens Funding, but if the authority wants to do more, it will be at its own expense;
- regarding funding, money is put into the reserve each year, whether or not there is an election, so if the cost of an election is calculated as £60k, £30k is put into the reserve one year and topped up the following year to cover the £60k costs. Sufficient funding is therefore available to support the actions outlined in the report;
- the authority always holds extra funding in reserve to deal with multiple elections (e.g. for the county, police commissioner etc);
- anyone can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate, but they will be asked by the portal if they have any other form of ID. If they have, they will be informed that they don’t need a certificate; if they say they haven’t, their application will be pushed through;
- it wouldn’t be feasible to have a photo booth in every polling station, and in any case, certificates must be applied for six working days before polling day, but it may be feasible to see if one can be installed at the Municipal Offices, where members of the public can apply in person for a certificate;
- officers will consider what training may be given to help polling staff make good judgements on the photo evidence presented;
- additional work will be done with people in areas with boundary changes and who need to attend a different polling station.
In debate, Members made the following comments:
- this appalling measure is an assault on local democracy, justified as a means to protect against fraud despite the Electoral Commission saying that this is not a problem in the UK. Their research has confirmed that the existing system of polling cards and trust works well;
- a government pilot led to 1000 people being turned away, many of whom are likely to be from ethnic backgrounds; projecting this across 230 voting councils suggests that 26k people could be denied ballots. Added to these are people who may not even have entered their polling station;
- the obvious explanation is that this is gerrymandering, an attempt to suppress the votes of certain sections of the community, as effectively admitted by Jacob Rees-Mogg at the National Conservative Conference, recognising that elderly voters will now be at a disadvantage; this smacks of racism and elitism, as it seems that the part of the population that needs the vote most is least likely to have the required documents. It also seems like a way of introducing ID cards by stealth;
- this is outrageous and the council must do everything in its power to make the barriers to voting as light as possible;
- thanks for the election team for their hard work and efforts to try and help people to vote, despite this abhorrent and scandalous dereliction of democracy;
- the report is welcome as the start of a bigger piece of work to increase voter turn-out, which is just 24% in some wards and could drop further without interventions;
- it is too late to re-open the debate on the principle of voter ID, and we should remember that in addition to local publicity, a national awareness scheme was run across the country earlier this year;
- CBH is including information about this in its digital and hard copy newsletter, and it would be helpful to approach Bromford, Home Group and other social housing organisations to encourage them to do the same.
1. the contents of this report be noted;
2. Gareth Edmundson, Kim Smith and Alison Murray be appointed as Deputy Electoral Registration Officers;
3. the use of £20,000 from the Elections Equalisation Earmarked Reserve to further promote the requirement for Voter ID in future elections be approved.