Is Westminster gearing up for a devolution battle over ‘voter suppression’ plans?

Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 2nd July 2021

The Welsh Government has spoken out in strong terms against plans in Westminster to impose mandatory voter ID for UK elections.

In a Senedd question to Wales’ Counsel General – the government’s top legal figure – Carolyn Thomas MS (North Wales) asked on Wednesday what representations Welsh ministers have made to UK Government regarding the ID plans.

Across the UK, voter ID could lock out around two million people who lack ID from voting – with many people in Wales among them.

Welsh elections – for the Senedd and local councils – are devolved, but Westminster ones are not. This raises major risks: if Westminster elections and Senedd ones are on the same day, could Welsh voters who lack ID be denied a say for both?

The exchange in the Welsh Parliament/Senedd is worth quoting in full (with thanks to Welsh political monitors Positif for the write-up):

The Counsel General said he has made clear to the UK Government that the Welsh Government does not wish to see voter ID required for devolved elections. The Welsh Government is concerned about the potential operational impact of this, along with other UK Government proposals, on the administration and accessibility of devolved elections and on voter experience.

Carolyn Thomas MS said she is deeply concerned about the impact that voter ID will have, including suppressing voter turnout in the most disadvantaged communities. She said elections should be as open and accessible as possible.

The Counsel General said the Elections Bill has just been published and the Welsh Government has only just seen the details of it. There have been quadrilateral meetings on voter ID and he has further bilateral meetings imminently to discuss aspects of the legislation and its relevance. The Welsh Government doesn’t want to see divergence being introduced in the administration of elections in Wales. There were only 4 convictions of voter fraud and 2 cautions in the 2019 General election across the whole of the UK. This suggests that the UK Government’s approach is more about voter suppression.

Altaf Hussain MS said proving we are who we say we are isn’t so unusual e.g. age to buy a drink or proof to open a bank account. Voter ID is intended to preserve and protect democracy, not undermine it.

The Counsel General said Wales already has a free, fair, open and robust elections and there is no evidential base to make a change that would make it more difficult for people to vote.

With Scotland’s governing party also strongly opposed to making it harder to vote, the government could have a devolution battle on its hands.

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