To consider a report from the Director of Communities, Environment and Housing which is part of a series of regular updates received by the Board in recent years from Electoral Services. This item provides an update on the progress and preparation relating to the introduction of photographic identification in polling stations from 4 May 2023.
The Board considered the report of the Director of Communities, Housing and Environment which provided, for information, an update on Voter identification implementation.
The following were in attendance for this item:
· Cllr Debra Coupar (Executive Member)
· Mariana Pexton (Director of Resources)
· Susanna Benton (Head of Electoral Services)
The Head of Electoral Services outlined the requirements of the Elections Act 2022 in relation to photographic identification for those wishing to vote in person at a polling station.
Members were advised that this requirement will not apply to postal voters though there are plans to carry out ID check on postal voters in advance of elections in 2024. In Leeds 30% of the electorate are registered for a postal vote. There has so far been no significant increase in postal vote applications that could be attributed to electors choosing that method of voting to bypass the new identification requirements.
Susanna Benton set out the ways in which the changes have been communicated locally including via email, radio, neighbourhood forums, advertising in multiple languages on refuse vehicles, and existing community and faith networks. This work will continue until final deadline for voter ID applications on Tuesday 25 April.
People who vote anonymously have been contacted separately.
It was confirmed that most polling stations currently have a female member of staff appointed to undertake the checking of voter ID. Should a female member of staff not be present, a female polling station inspector will be available to attend the polling station if required.
In respect of take up of the free Voter Authority Certificates (VACs) the Board were informed that research carried out by the Government and Electoral Commission suggested that in Leeds between 2,000 and 7,000 applications could be expected. In an update to the figure provided in the report the number of applications for VACs now stands at 951.
Concern was expressed about staff facing aggression if electors are turned away from a polling station. Additional training is being provided to staff and the Head of Electoral Services has been working closely with West Yorkshire Police to ensure support is in place on polling day.
It is anticipated that the polling station inspector would make the final decision about whether to refuse a ballot paper in cases where an ID document raises reasonable doubt for the presiding officer and a voter requests a second opinion or is dissatisfied with the initial view from the presiding officer.
It was confirmed that the Government has applied the new burdens doctrine to the implementation of Voter ID and the team is therefore recording additional costs with a view to applying for reimbursement.
The Head of Electoral Services confirmed that in cases where electors are turned away, they will be able to return with appropriate ID.
The Scrutiny Board thanked the Head of Elections for the extensive work undertaken to implement the new requirements relating to voter ID.
Cllr Coupar added that she has specific concerns about staff safety and whether all electors will have appropriate voter ID on election day and that she will continue to advocate for a delay to the introduction of voter ID in the coming weeks.
RESOLVED – That the contents of the report and discussions be noted.