Impact of voter ID on turnout unknowable, says minister

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A ballot box at a polling station. (Rui Vieira/PA) (PA Wire)
A ballot box at a polling station. (Rui Vieira/PA) (PA Wire)

The number of people who will choose not to vote if required to produce ID at polling stations is “unknowable”, a minister has told a House of Commons committee.

Chloe Smith, minister for the constitution and devolution, told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that recent pilots had seen 0.4% of voters turned away for lacking photographic ID.

But, she said, the reasons people chose not to vote were ultimately “unknowable” given voting is not compulsory, adding: “The largest reason people gave for not voting was they didn’t have time.”

Ms Smith was appearing in front of the committee during its inquiry on the Elections Bill, which introduces requirements for voter ID that critics fear will disenfranchise people who lack the right form of identification.

There is an obvious vulnerability that is possible here, which is that somebody steals another person's vote.

Chloe Smith, minister for the constitution and devolution

The committee had previously heard that the introduction of voter ID in Northern Ireland may have deterred 25,000 people from voting in the 2003 election, equivalent to 3.5% of the electorate.

But while Ms Smith denied that anyone would be “disenfranchised”, she said in response to questions on how many people would not vote: “We have some research on this, but fundamentally you are asking me for an unknowable number.”

She added that 98% of people already have appropriate ID, and those that do not would be able to apply for a free voter card to enable them to participate in elections.

Ms Smith also told the committee that it was not possible to know how many cases of “personation” – where someone pretends to be another person in order to vote – had occurred, as not every case would be detected or reported to the police.

In the 2019 election, SNP MP Ronnie Cowan said, there had been just 34 allegations of personation, two of which resulted in a caution or conviction.

Chloe Smith (Chris Radburn/PA) (PA Archive)
Chloe Smith (Chris Radburn/PA) (PA Archive)

But Ms Smith said the number of offences reported would always be smaller than the number that occurred, as it would be “for any crime you care to analyse”.

She said: “The funnel for any crime is going to involve a number for what activity might have taken place, a number for how many allegations are made and a number for how many convictions might result. We should all be familiar with that.”

However, she went on to say that the voter ID requirement in Northern Ireland had “eliminated” personation there as it was now not possible, although Mr Cowan suggested that criminals could still be forging ID cards in order to vote.

Ms Smith added: “The fundamental point remains – as I’ve said, we are responsible for making sure our elections are secure. There is an obvious vulnerability that is possible here, which is that somebody steals another person’s vote.

“We have already through the passage of history made our elections progressively more secure, progressively more inclusive, progressively towards what we would all want them to be.

“This is another step on that journey to make sure that we are stamping out this particular crime so that people can have more confidence in our elections.”

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