Drakeford accuses UK Government of having ‘voter suppression agenda’
Mark Drakeford has accused the UK Government of having a “deliberate voter suppression agenda” after reports people were turned away from ballot boxes in England last week due to new photo identification laws.
The First Minister told Senedd members the Welsh Government would not be introducing ID requirements for local and Senedd elections held in Wales.
Responding to a question during Tuesday’s Plenary session, Mr Drakeford said the issue of voter fraud did not exist.
He claimed the Conservative Party was using far-right tactics from the United States to “make it more difficult for people who might not support them to turn up and cast their vote”.
Conservative member Darren Millar said he was “baffled” by the Welsh Government’s position on the matter.
Voters were required for the first time on Thursday to show photo ID in order to collect their ballot paper.
More than 8,000 council seats in England were being contested across 230 local authorities, while mayors were being selected in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.
The Government has argued the change is required to reduce electoral fraud, but the move has been widely criticised over concerns of potential voter disenfranchisement.
In Wales, voters will now have to show photo ID at polling stations in some elections including Police and Crime Commissioner elections, UK parliamentary by-elections, Recall petitions and UK General elections.
However, they will not need to show ID to vote at Senedd elections or local council elections as the powers over those voting systems are devolved.
Mr Drakeford said: “The chair of the Electoral Commission himself witnessed people being turned away from polling stations and very concerningly he witnessed those people we rely on to conduct elections suffering abuse from people who felt that they had been unfairly denied their democratic rights.
“I have no doubt at all that Act is part of a deliberate voter suppression agenda pursued by the Conservative government.
“The way they think they can win elections is to learn the lessons from the far-right in the United States, and that is to make it more difficult for people who might not support them to turn up and cast their vote.
“We will not be pursuing that course of action here in Wales. Our policies are designed to make it easier for people to cast their vote, not more difficult,” he added.
“There wasn’t a single prosecution across the whole of the United Kingdom last year for voter fraud. This is a solution in search of a problem, a problem that doesn’t exist.
“The problem that is being created is that people who wish to participate in the democratic process are being denied that right and we will not collude in that in Wales.”
Mr Millar said: “This is about the security and integrity of our elections. We know that across the whole of western Europe voter ID is the norm, and in most western democracies it is the norm.
“But it seems that you have an issue with it, perhaps because of your own party’s record on fraud cases which have happened in Labour areas, such as the Tower Hamlets frauds, the Birmingham frauds as well, back in 2004.”
A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “It’s vital we keep our democracy secure, prevent the potential for voter fraud, and bring the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland which has had photo identification to vote in elections since 2003.
“This follows successful pilots in 2018 and 2019, including in Woking where over 99% of people were able to successfully cast their vote.
“Following local elections in May, it is essential that we understand how voter identification has operated in practice. Extensive analysis of the data collected from polls is now being undertaken by the Electoral Commission and the Government, with final reports set to be published later this year.”