Welsh politicians and campaigners say UK Government voter ID plan is 'major blow' to democracy

Welsh politicians, charities and campaigners have united to call on the UK Government to drop its plans to introduce compulsory voter ID in national elections, claiming it would be a "major blow" for democracy.

The letter organised by young campaigner, Maddy Dhesi, from Hands Off Our Vote, highlights the impact the plans will have on young people, who will be required to buy a passport, drivers licence or apply for an electoral identity card before being allowed to cast their ballot.  

Over 40 Welsh MPs and MSs have signed the letter including Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cymru, and Jo Stevens, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

18-year-old Maddy said: ''Voter ID is not a UK Government or Welsh Government issue, but rather, an issue of Welsh democracy. This letter sees both MPs and MSs come together to recognise the danger of voter ID for Wales.

"I organised this letter because in the May 2021 elections, I knew more people who weren't voting than who were. If half of our elections held in Wales require voter ID, it will make it so much harder for so many people in Wales to be able to access their right to vote, especially young people.

"This will not just exacerbate voter apathy and low voter registration rates, but counteract the work that has already been done to create a more inclusive democracy for Wales. The Elections Bill should not be making it harder for people to vote and two convictions of voter fraud since 2017 is not an appropriate justification for these measures.''

The letter comes after the Elections Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on Monday (January 17th) with MPs approving plans to make voter ID mandatory in national elections.

Rhys ab Owen MS

Plaid Cymru's Constitutional spokesperson, South Wales Central MS Rhys ab Owen said that the Elections Bill was "further proof of the growing chasm" between Wales and Westminster politics.

He said: "Plaid Cymru is pleased to support the campaign by a young person from Wales to ensure we protect Welsh democracy from the vagaries of a Westminster system that is determined to restrict voting rights.

"The important steps we are taking to expand and deepen our democracy in Wales could suffer a major blow if the Tory Government in Westminster has its way with the Election Bill.

"We don't want them to turn back the clock on the important measures to boost our democracy, extending the electoral franchise by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds and foreign citizens legally resident in Wales to vote. The Elections Bill represents further proof of the growing chasm between our approaches to politics in Wales and Westminster."

Open letter from Welsh politicians and campaigners

Jess Blair, Director of Electoral Reform Society also agreed that introducing compulsory voter IDs would risk people being "excluded from our democracy".

She said: "The introduction of compulsory voter ID for elections risks large numbers of voters being excluded from our democracy. Not everyone has access to photo ID and we know that those affected are disproportionately likely to be young people, ethnic minorities, disabled people and the very old.

"This will have a direct impact on elections in Wales with UK General Elections and PCC elections requiring ID from Welsh voters, as evidenced by a number of MSs and MPs who have supported this letter. 

"The UK Government must pause and rethink this legislation and consider measures to remove barriers to our democracy, rather than creating them".

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We cannot be complacent when it comes to ensuring our democracy remains secure. Our Elections Bill will stamp out the potential for voter fraud and will bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.

 “99% of young people already have an accepted form of identification, and any voter that doesn’t can apply for a free Voter Card from their council.”