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Sheffield citizens urged to avoid voter suppression tactics at May's local elections

Research has shown new rules on voter ID will make it harder for young and minority ethnic people to vote.

City centre the moor

During last year's elections there was not a single proven cause of voter fraud.

Rachel Rae Photography

Apply for free voter ID by 25 April

Citizens across Sheffield will find it harder to vote in the upcoming local elections as a result of new government rules, which will require voters to present photo ID at polling stations.

The government have misleadingly claimed the new rules are needed to tackle voter fraud. In reality, voter fraud is an almost non-existent problem in the UK – at the last general election there were only four convictions for fraud out of 58 million votes cast.

During last year's local and mayoral elections, there was not a single proven case of in-person voter fraud. But the government have refused to back down on the project, which is set to cost £180 million per decade.

Civil rights campaigners have claimed the real reason behind the plan is to make it harder for young people and ethnic minorities to vote. These groups are less likely to vote Conservative, and also less likely to have acceptable forms of photo ID according to research by the Electoral Commission.

To date the government has not explained why Oyster +60 cards are considered an acceptable form of voter ID, but student Oyster cards (which also feature a photo) are not.

"Can the Conservatives honestly hold their hands up and say they made no calculation about securing a political advantage when deciding to introduce voter ID?" tweeted Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

Government-commissioned research from 2021 found that, in total, 4% of people in the UK don't have any form of recognisable photo ID (approximately 2.1 million people).

At two trials of voter ID in the 2018 and 2019 local elections, 1,159 would-be voters were turned away from polling stations and denied their democratic rights for not having the right form of ID.

"It doesn’t matter how the government tries to dress it up, these plans will make it harder for working-class, older and black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons to vote," Labour's shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said when the plans were first announced.

"They know this is the case because their own research shows that millions of our fellow citizens lack photo ID in this country."

The government have said that people without an acceptable form of photo ID can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate by 25 April to vote in local elections on 4 May. But The Guardian reported that, as of 3 April, only 37,000 people (2% of the approximate number of eligible voters lacking ID) have taken up the offer.

Thousands of voters are likely to be unaware that they don't have an acceptable form of ID until they turn up at the polling station, despite a public awareness campaign by the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission advised the government that this May was too soon to bring in the new rules, but this recommendation was rejected by ministers.

Some campaigners are concerned the change could lead to chaos at polling stations, with an extra administrative burden for staff and the potential for anger as would-be voters are turned away.

"Voter ID will disproportionately disenfranchise ethnic minority, working class, LGBTQ+, young and elderly voters," said the Runnymede Trust, an independent race equality think-tank.

"Government should be doing more to include these groups in the democratic process, not pressing on with policies which will likely exclude them."

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Local elections in Sheffield take place on 4 May

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