Digital technology will be used to detect voter fraud for the first time under controversial trials to take place next year.
Up to three local authorities will only allow people to vote in the local council elections if they produce polling cards with scannable barcodes, The Cabinet Office has announced.
Mid Sussex, Watford and North West Leicestershire councils have been chosen for further trials using polling cards, at least some of which will involve scanning barcodes.
In addition, voters in Pendle, East Staffordshire and Woking will be asked to show photo ID before they are given their ballot papers. And Ribble Valley, Broxtowe, Derby, North Kesteven and Braintree will require voters to present either one form of photo ID or up to two forms of non-photo ID.
Chloe Smith, the minister for the constitution, said: “We want people to have confidence that our elections are safeguarded against any threat or perception of electoral fraud.
“People are already required to show ID to pick up a parcel from the Post Office, rent a car, or apply for benefits, and this is a common sense next step to securing the integrity of our elections.”
The move is part of an expansion of trials requiring various forms of ID, which sparked protests when they were introduced in five areas last May. These required voters to show ID ranging from their poll card to documents such as a passport or driving licence.
But these sparked protests from charities and other groups that argued they penalised homeless people, older voters and those from minority backgrounds – and were draconian when voter impersonation is virtually unknown.
Organisations including the Salvation Army, Age UK, Liberty and homelessness charity Centrepoint signed a joint letter to press in protest. It pointed out that 350 people were turned away for not having the correct ID and did not return to vote – yet there were just 28 allegations of voter impersonation throughout 2017.
“Further trials are a distraction from the many more pressing challenges our democracy faces,” the letter said.
“There are other measures which the Government could be pursuing, which would do more to help meet the Cabinet Office’s plan to improve democratic engagement. We urge the Government to think again about imposing this risky policy of voter ID.”
The Electoral Commission said the trials had gone well, with “nearly everyone” who went to polling stations able to show ID and people in the relevant areas pleased that fraud was being tackled.
However, it warned that there was “not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns and answer questions about the impact of identification requirements on voters” – for example, whether such schemes could put some people off from even trying to vote.
Image by No Pablum, own work, CC0