One of the most significant changes is the introduction of voter ID, which will require all electors to produce a form of photo identification – such as a passport, driving licence, immigration document or PASS card – to be eligible to vote.
The council’s governance and ethics committee on Thursday received a report outlining the new voting requirements and procedures.
Electoral services manager Laura Noonan told members: “In January next year the voter authority certificate scheme will launch which will enable electors who do not have appropriate photo ID to apply for a certificate. Then in May next year voters will need to show their voter ID at the polling station before they are issued with a ballot paper.
“The ID must be the original document and cannot be a photocopy. Expired photo ID will also be accepted as long as the photo remains a good enough likeness to be able to identify the elector. Work/student passes will not be an acceptable form of ID.
“Electors who do not have an acceptable form of photo ID can apply for a voter authority certificate. The deadline to apply will be six days before the poll and voter certificates will have a ten-year lifespan.
“We anticipate that around 3,700 electors in the city would not have suitable ID and would need to apply for a voter authority certificate. Then we also have over 12,000 EU nationals on the register, so when that legislation comes in we’ll have to review the eligibility of all of those."
She added: “Returning officers must also take reasonable steps to provide support for those with a disability at polling stations. In June next year changes will be made to voting and eligibility to stand for election. And in January 2024 postal voters will need to apply for a postal vote every three years – currently it’s every five years.
“Then in May 2024 there will be further limits on the number of people someone may act as a proxy for. And also currently there is a 15-year limit on overseas voters. This will be removed so that all British citizens living overseas can vote in parliamentary elections regardless of when they left the UK.
“A ‘first past the post’ system will be introduced for police and crime commissioner and combined authority mayoral elections, removing the supplementary vote.
“Another key change for voting in the polling station is that we will need to provide each polling station with privacy screens because an elector may be asked to remove a face covering or veil as part of an ID check.”
Councillor Ellis Turrell said: “I think these are really sensible changes the government has made here. Some people might say ‘why do we need voter ID?’ but you only have to look at what happened in Tower Hamlets in London in 2014 with massive corruption and voter fraud.
“We know that Northern Ireland has had voter ID for quite a few years now and there’s been no adverse effect or impact on voter participation there. And also a lot of European countries use voter ID, including France, Switzerland and others.”
Committee chair Councillor John Reynolds said: “In Tower Hamlets it wouldn’t have made any difference if they had voter ID because the issue wasn’t about that. It was about postal voting and it wouldn’t have made any difference if they had photographs there. Actually, it’s less than a dozen complaints every year about voter impersonation in mainland UK.”
The changes will be implemented over an 18-month period. After the 2023 elections, the council will return to a cycle of election by thirds with elections in 2024, 2026 and 2027. The councillor with the highest number of votes will be elected to the four-year term, the second highest to the three-year term and the lowest to the one-year term.