STUDENT Maddy Dhesi, from the north, is a campaigner with HandsOffOurVote and has collected signatures from Welsh MPs and Senedd Members opposed to compulsory voter ID.

More than 40 members from both parliaments have signed the open letter to the UK Government calling for it to drop its plans. Here she explains why she organised the letter that has been signed by figures including shadow secretary of state for Wales Jo Stevens, Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Jane Dodds, and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price.

"Wales has a democratic engagement problem and voter ID is going to make it worse.

This week MPs voted 325 to 234 in favour of voter ID - a policy which makes voting harder through its requirement for voters to present mandatory photo ID at polling stations. Voter ID will exist in all UK General and Police and Crime Commissioner elections here in Wales by Spring 2023. 

No election held in Wales, barring UK General Elections, have never even breached turnouts of 50 per cent. But now, even General Elections are having an expensive and unnecessary barrier placed in front of them. 

Voter ID will only encourage a culture of voter apathy when this is the last thing we need in Wales. With our most popular elections requiring voter ID, the positive democratic policies that we do have - such as the Welsh Government’s votes at 16 and residence based voting rights - will be nullified.

During the Elections Bill debate on Monday, there were countless trivialising comments made in relation voting rights in the UK. Supporters of voter ID were commenting that voting is easier than buying cigarettes, collecting a parcel, or buying alcohol.

READ MORE: 'No, it’s not easier to vote than to return a parcel'

But this attitude bypasses the true problem with voting in the UK: if voting were easy, then more people would be voting. 

Even without voter ID, there are many barriers to voting within Wales - poor political literacy and low levels of voter registration.

But instead of tackling these tangible problems and proven problems the Elections Bill pursues a problem that is insignificant in comparison given there have only been two convictions of voter fraud since 2017.

READ MORE: Westminster Elections Bill 'a step back for democracy'

Voter ID’s harm will not just stay contained to General Elections, even though (especially with reduced seats in the House of Commons) this is already a severe blow to the representation of Welsh voters, but extend to devolved elections. 

If as in May 2021, a devolved and reserved election was held on the same day, a voter turned away for not having ID in the latter election could be denied a vote in the former. There has been no answer from the UK Government as to how this will be prevented.

READ MORE: Tories say voters have nothing to fear from elections bill

The Counsel General and Welsh Government have been clear that voter ID should have no place in Wales by withholding legislative consent for the Elections Bill and stating that devolved elections in Wales will not bring in voter ID. But it is not just the Welsh Government and MPs against voter ID.

In my open letter to the UK Government 43 MPs and MSs (including Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Jo Stevens, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds, and Leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price) support my message of concern for the impact of voter ID on Welsh democracy."

Dear UK Government,

This letter, in the interest of Welsh democracy and Welsh Youth, is calling on the UK Government to reassess the plans to require voters to present identification at polling stations (voter ID) in UK General Elections.

There is minimal evidence of electoral fraud in British elections and significant evidence that a disproportionately large number of voters will be disenfranchised and dissuaded from voting by this measure. Voter ID will create new challenges for everybody involved in the democratic process: from poll workers, to candidates, to voters themselves.

Voter ID is a false solution to the real problems of our elections: the millions of people in the UK not registered to vote. Instead of dealing with many missing from the electoral roll, voter ID will exacerbate this issue, particularly affecting marginalised groups who are already excluded from public life. These marginalised groups include people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, transgender people, people who cannot afford photo ID, and people who could not easily access an electoral identity card scheme if one was implemented.

Furthermore, young people’s election turnout is the lowest of all ages in all the types of elections held in Wales. Whether it be by paying for a new passport or acquiring an electoral identity card, placing the barrier of photo ID in front of the ballot box will only make it harder to vote.

Voter ID will dissuade young voters, creating more criteria (varying from £34-£80 cost, ID application time, and the privilege of having somebody from a ‘recognised profession’ verify your ID) that will make it harder to vote.

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The Welsh Government has worked to address the problems of youth engagement by extending the franchise, but the 35,000 unregistered voters of May’s elections shows work needs to be done to engage voters. Is the ten year central estimated cost to implement voter ID of £180 million not better spent on improving political engagement and education in order to increase voter turnout?

Though General Elections and Senedd elections fall under different jurisdictions, it is illogical that one of these bodies is widening voting accessibility whilst the other is gatekeeping it.

With the boundary changes reducing the number of Welsh MPs in the House of Commons to 32, Wales will be less represented in the House of Commons and now voter ID risks further weakening Wales’ electoral voice.

This letter is signed by Welsh MSs and MPs all of whom - no matter their institution - work to uphold Welsh democracy and therefore want voting to remain an empowering process and not have it deteriorate into an inaccessible privilege.

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