Extra polling station staff will be drafted in to help next month as the Government introduces its new voter ID rules, the Electoral Commission said, amid fears the policy could leave people disenfranchised.
The agency’s director of communications, Craig Westwood, said there has been a months-long training drive to ensure voters are supported in navigating the requirement to show photo identification.
The Government’s new policy means people must not only be registered to vote but also take a form of ID such as a passport or driving licence when they head to their local polling station on May 4.
It has been branded “expensive” and “unnecessary” by Labour and sparked concern among electoral reform campaigners who say it could make it harder for some voters to cast their ballot.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has voiced fears that electoral staff will be “overwhelmed” on polling day as they grapple with “the biggest change to in-person voting in 150 years”.
Anyone without the correct identification needs to apply for a voter authority certificate (VAC) by April 25.
Around one in four voters do not know that photo ID is required for the local elections despite the looming deadline, the Electoral Commission said.
Mr Westwood told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that extensive planning has been undertaken to get councils ready for the challenge, but that public awareness of the policy stands at 76%.
He said: “There will be more staff. Some polling stations, particularly larger ones where there are more people who will be registered in that area, will have greeters – people who are outside the polling station that can just make sure that people are definitely aware of the ID requirement.
“That they’d got it with them, they’ve got it out of their purse, wallet, bag, and have got it ready, just to make sure that any queues are being eased through.”
“The awareness in the public has gone up from 22% to 76% over that period (since January) and that’s still with a month to go,” he added.
There have been just 60,368 online applications for a VAC since the scheme opened on January 16 this year.
The average number of applications per day stood at 1,129 in the week to April 13, the highest so far and up from an average of 1,018 the previous week.
Some 2,127 applications were submitted on April 13, the highest number on a single day so far and the first time the daily total has topped 2,000.
Just 6% of all applications have come from people aged under 25 and 3% from people aged 75 and over, according to analysis of Government data by the PA news agency.
Applications from 55 to 64-year-olds account for nearly a third (32%) of the total, followed by 45 to 54-year-olds (23%), 35 to 44-year-olds (16%), 65 to 74-year-olds (10%) and 25 to 34-year-olds (10%).
The Liberal Democrats called on the Government to abandon the policy when Parliament returns on Monday, describing its impact a “national scandal” that could lead to “a disaster for our democracy”.
Party spokeswoman Helen Morgan MP said: “The moment Parliament returns on Monday, the Government must cancel the voter ID measures before too many people lose their voice in this year’s local elections.”
The Electoral Reform Society has warned that low levels of public awareness about the policy, along with limitations on the forms of ID deemed valid, could hinder young voters.
Willie Sullivan, senior director, told PA: “Allowing bus passes and Oyster cards for older voters but refusing to accept the same forms of ID for young people means that these new rules could disproportionately shut out younger voters from the ballot box.”
Darren Hughes, the group’s chief executive, said: “I think because the awareness of this is so worryingly low, because it has been sort of snuck in, that people on the front line on election day are going to be facing voters who are quite confused – people who are genuinely the person they say they are who either don’t have ID or who have simply forgotten it, not being given a ballot paper.”
“Labour are clear that voter ID is an expensive, unnecessary policy and the wrong priority at the height of a cost-of-living crisis.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the change will help make sure voting is a “high-integrity process”, despite no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud in the UK.
Between 2018 and 2022, there were nine convictions relating to electoral fraud and six police cautions issued, according to Electoral Commission figures.
Downing Street has said the rules are aimed at preventing “potential” voter impersonation, rather than dealing with any widespread existing issue.
It said only a “very small proportion” of young voters lack the necessary ID to cast their ballot.
“This is to guard against the potential for wrongdoing in this area or voter impersonation,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
The Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee will on Monday hold an evidence session on electoral registration, where it will likely consider the impact of the policy.
It will hear from administrators and registration campaigners across the UK, including the British Youth Council and Disability Rights UK.
More than 8,000 council seats are up for grabs on May 4 across 230 local authorities, ranging from small rural councils to some of the largest towns and cities – though no elections are scheduled in London or Birmingham.
No elections are taking place in Scotland or Wales this year.
Local elections in Northern Ireland – where voter ID is already required – have been put back two weeks to May 18 to avoid a clash with the King’s coronation on May 6.
An LGA spokesperson said: “Councils are working around the clock to deliver the local elections and the new voter ID requirements, which is the biggest change to in-person voting in 150 years. The practical effort required to deliver this change in such a short timeframe should not be understated.
“Raising public awareness of these new requirements is crucial and we remain concerned about the potential for electoral staff to be overwhelmed with inquiries and Voter Authority Certificate applications when polling cards go out.
“Electoral administrators and returning officers also need urgent clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the electoral process without risking access to the vote.”
The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) warned that voters applying for a VAC closer to the deadline may encounter administrative issues if there is a last-minute spike in applications.
AEA chief executive Peter Stanyon said: “The Local Government Association is correct to say the practical difficulties around implementing voter ID should not be underestimated. No returning officer or electoral administrator wants to see any elector disenfranchised at any election.
“The whole electoral community is working incredibly hard to run elections for 4 May, including spreading the word about new voter ID requirements – which only became law in January.”
He added: “We’d encourage anyone who needs a Voter Authority Certificate to apply sooner rather than later, as any invalid last-minute applications could leave those electors very little time to arrange an alternative form of ID.”