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Apr 18th, 2023

Will these local elections prove a disaster for democracy?

By Ellie Gellard

Amid dire warnings about the impact of new voter ID laws, thousands of us have been striving to ensure as few people as possible are turned away from the polls during the local elections in May.

We were among the pro-democracy organisations that fought against the imposition of the rules, which Electoral Commission figures show could disenfranchise more than 3 million voters who don’t hold photo ID. We collected over 110,000 petition signatures and mobilised more than 21,000 people to email their MP or the then-Prime Minister.

But, when the law came into force, a change in gear was needed. Instead of fighting the inevitable, our community pivoted to making the change work as well as it could, protecting every possible vote.

We issued posters to supporters, informing people of the new rules. More than 9,000 people put them in their windows, on fence posts or community noticeboards, ensuring their neighbours wouldn’t lose their votes.

We sent posters to councils in areas where people were most likely to be affected, and to MPs.

With younger people less likely to vote in general and less likely to hold the ID required, we’ve used social media to target those at risk of missing out, with tens of thousands of people completing our online quiz that set out the rules.

And now, in collaboration with the Mirror newspaper, we’ve launched a drive inviting people to read up on the rules, mark themselves as “election ready” and pass the challenge on to friends and family, ensuring their loved ones don’t miss out on their democratic rights.

Now, with the deadline to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate for the local elections in England fast approaching (25 April), campaigners are urging everyone to pass the message on.

“Awareness raising isn’t our usual approach, but this issue was different,” says Ellie Gellard, 38 Degrees Strategic Director.

“We knew that every single person turned away from the polls would be a blow for democracy – and every single person informed would be a win.

“We know awareness raising works: you can track applications for free ID and they spike when the issue is mentioned in the media. At the same time, you can’t be too pessimistic: if you talk about how hard it’s going to be to vote, we know people can be put off and simply not turn out on election day.

“It’s about making sure everyone understands the simple steps they can take to protect their vote. We know voter ID rules are an anti-democratic solution to a non-existent problem, and when there’s a realistic theory of change, we’re ready to fight for them to be changed or scrapped.

“But with an election coming up, thousands of us are doing everything we can to limit the damage to democracy.”

You can read up on the rules, mark yourself ‘election ready’ and pass the message on to family and friends here.

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