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West Berkshire councillors vote down motion calling to scrap voter identification cards

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WEST Berkshire Council has voted down a motion calling on the Government to scrap its plans to introduce voter identification cards.

Councillors voted down the motion as a freedom of information request revealed there have been zero cases of reported voter fraud since West Berkshire Council's inception in 1998.

The Government is planning on introducing voter ID cards to safeguard against potential voter fraud, but critics argue that the cards are a disproportionate response to the low cases of personation - the crime of pretending to be someone else at a vote.

Passports, driving licences, PASS scheme and Blue Badge cards, and some travel passes would be accepted. People without these would be able to apply for a free voter card from their local council.

Voter ID is required in Northern Ireland and the Electoral Commission has recommended since 2014 that it be required in the rest of the UK. As of August 2020, one conviction and one caution had been secured for personation.

Green minority leader Carolyne Culver (Ridgeway) called on the council to lobby the Government to abandon the proposals at a meeting on July 8.

Ms Culver said the issue of personation was "a vanishingly small problem" and that photo ID would "put up barriers that would disproportionately affect people least likely to have the documents", including older people and those with disabilities.

The photographic ID model is expected to cost between £5.9m and £17.9m and Ms Culver urged the council to assure the people of West Berkshire that "not a penny of their council tax will be spent on implementing any such scheme.”

Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) said the issue was a national one and not for West Berkshire, adding that the Government would bear the costs of the free voter ID cards.

He said: "It's not an unusual requirement for voters to identify themselves at the polling station. The vast majority of countries do so, including most of our allies... we don't often hear complaints of voter suppression from our EU friends."

Mr Mackinnon said the recommendations would help combat incidents and opportunities for personation and that "it stands to reason that the complaints are the tip of the iceberg. Most cases of personation will go completely undetected."

Liberal Democrat opposition leader Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East) said there were a lot of assumptions around the data, but it came down to the fundamental belief of trust.

He said: "Do you trust your residents, your neighbours, your community to go out and vote? I don't see many of us being able to get massive turnout in our elections, so we're not infusing our voters to turn out. That's what we need to do. We need to have a system in place that makes people want to turn out and vote because then impersonation will be found out.

"There is not this big scary beast out there of voters being denied their democratic opportunity. We are trying to legislate here for a problem that doesn't exist. So you have to ask yourself the real reason of why, and I do think it's about voter suppression."

Portfolio holder Howard Woollaston (Con, Lambourn) said catching impersonators seemed impossible, so it was no surprise that the percentages were low.

He said: "I consider myself a liberal Conservative. I have no problem with having a full identity card. I can see no problem with it whatsoever."

An indicative vote of councillors attending virtually rejected the motion by 21 votes to 17, with one abstention. Councillors in the chamber voted eight against and six for.

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