Local elections: 10 million voters 'don't know they need photo ID'

The local elections will take place on 4 May. (PA)
Voter ID will be needed in England for the first time during the local elections on 4 May. (PA)

Up to 10 million people are not aware that they now need photo ID in order to vote in today’s local elections, campaigners have said.

The local elections will mark the first time it has been compulsory for all voters in England to have to show photo identification when arriving at polling stations.

While the deadline for such certificates has passed, Conservative MP Michael Fabricant highlighted that those included in the estimated 2% of the electorate who do not have accepted voter IDs could still vote by proxy.

He said: “If you’re one of the 2% who doesn’t have suitable ID and forgot to apply for a free voter authority certificate, you can still vote by appointing a proxy — who must have the correct photo ID.

“As late as 5pm on Thursday, polling day, you can appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf.

“There really is no excuse to give up your democratic rights.”

Brentwood, UK. 04th May, 2023. A polling station is preppared ahead of the local elctions in Brentwood Essex Credit: Ian Davidson/Alamy Live News
Polling stations have opened for the local elections. (Alamy)

The much-criticised change was piloted regionally before the national roll-out for Thursday’s elections.

Anyone without an accepted form of photo ID who wants to vote in England's elections, needed to apply for a special certificate from their council before 25 April.

According to polling for anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, nearly a quarter (23.8%) of people eligible to vote in the election do not know about the new rules – equivalent to some 10 million people across the UK.

More than 8,000 council seats in England are up for grabs on Thursday across 230 local authorities, ranging from small rural areas to some of the largest towns and cities.

Polls are also taking place to choose mayors in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

The Conservatives hope to hold onto swathes of the country despite being hugely behind in the polls.

The elections will be the first real electoral test of Rishi Sunak's premiership with Labour leader Keir Starmer hoping to prove his party has a real chance of winning the next election.

Do you need photo ID to vote?

For the first time in England, voters will need to show a form of photographic identification at their polling station in order to cast a ballot.

Not all types of photo ID will be accepted, which means some people may be unable to vote – though a passport, driving licence or blue badge are all valid.

Anyone without an accepted form of ID were able to apply for the voter authority certificate from their council before the deadline of 25 April.

Which forms of ID are acceptable?

Passports and driving licences are the most common forms of photographic ID to be accepted, but blue badges held by people who are registered disabled, as well as some travel IDs such as freedom passes will also be accepted.

Biometric immigration documents, a Ministry of Defence Form 90 (Defence Identity Card) and also a national identity card issued by an EEA state can be used.

The full list of acceptable IDs can be found on the Electoral Commission website here.

When and where are the local elections?

The elections are taking place today, Thursday, 4 May.

Some 230 local authorities are holding elections: 152 district councils, 46 unitary authorities and 32 Metropolitan boroughs.

The elections are all over England except in Birmingham, London, Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

The Electoral Commission has been running a public awareness campaign about the new laws. (PA)
The Electoral Commission has been running a public awareness campaign about the new laws. (PA)

Of the 230 local authorities holding elections, 152 are district councils, many of which are currently run by the Conservatives.

Almost all of the 32 metropolitan boroughs holding elections this year are already run by Labour, including huge authorities such as Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, and these are unlikely to change hands – though the Tories are defending Dudley and Solihull, and Labour will hope to take back control of Bolton.

The remaining 46 councils are unitary authorities and include many large towns and built-up areas across England, from Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland in the North East to Plymouth and Portsmouth on the south coast.

Four mayoral elections are also taking place: Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

Read more: Labour offer to country ahead of local elections

The elections will be a real test for Rishi Sunak. (PA)
The elections will be a real test for Rishi Sunak. (PA)

Labour has been ahead in the national opinion polls for more than a year, while the Conservatives have made a net loss of 40 seats in council by-elections since the last set of local elections in May 2022.

Overall, more than 8,000 council seats will be up for grabs.

Polls opened at 7am and close at 10pm.

Local elections in Northern Ireland due to take place on the same day have been postponed by two weeks to 18 May to avoid a clash with the King's coronation on 6 May.

Counting in Northern Ireland usually takes a couple of days to complete, due to the system of voting used for council elections, which sees voters rank candidates in order of preference.

No elections are taking place in Scotland and Wales this year.

Read more: Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey vows to steal Tory and Labour votes at local elections in campaign launch

The elections are taking place in most of England. (PA)
The elections are taking place in most of England. (PA)

Why are the voter ID changes coming in?

The new policy on photo ID has been criticised by some for being too vague and with not enough being done to make sure the public is aware of the new laws.

Professor Sir John Curtice, a polling expert, told the BBC there was “perhaps… a little bit of a partisan shadow about the way in which it has been implemented” given young people are “more inclined to vote Labour these days”.

The policy is opposed by Labour, with the party encouraging voters to register for a postal vote which is not subject to the same voter ID regulations, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

Ministers have argued the change is required to reduce electoral fraud.

There is also little evidence of electoral fraud in the UK so some are questioning why the policy is needed at all.

Between 2018 and 2022, there were nine convictions relating to electoral fraud and six police cautions issued.

There has also been some criticism over the forms of ID that are accepted.

For example, in London, an over-65s Oyster card is accepted, but a student one is not.

The Electoral Commission said extra staff will be deployed at some polling stations to make sure voters are aware of the new rules and to help manage queues.

The voter ID requirement is already in place in Northern Ireland and, from October, the condition will be extended to UK general elections as well.