The Public Laughs At The Government Again – This Time Over Voter ID

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

A second government minister has faced public ridicule in as many days after a radio audience laughed at the suggestion the Conservatives do not want to see new voter ID laws deter people from voting.

Robert Jenrick’s comments on BBC Radio 4 came around 24 hours after Rachel Maclean suggested on the broadcaster’s Question Time that British people being poorer had “nothing to do” with Brexit.

The government has introduced new compulsory ID rules for those voting in person during England’s local elections next week. The move has sparked criticism that more marginalised communities will face fresh challenges to vote.

The government has said the move will prevent voter fraud and protect democracy. But opposition parties and campaigners claim the plan is based on a false premise that actually amounts to “voter suppression” – locking out millions of voters without ID out of the democratic process.

On Any Questions on Friday, Jenrick argued the move was about “protecting the integrity of our democracy”, and said asking to see ID was not a “very unusual thing to do”.

He added: “The truth is it was an anachronism that we didn’t have to show ID going to vote. We all show ID when we go and collect a parcel at the petrol station, we show verification for all manner of things in life.”

He continued that “it is obviously very important that we get this right because we don’t want to see anybody disenfranchised”, which prompted laughter from the audience.

Jenrick argued the pilot schemes showed 99% of “those people who sought to vote did so successfully”, adding: “I don’t think it will be a major issue. I think it is an important step in defending our democracy and I think we should take that seriously.”

At two trials of voter ID in the 2018 and 2019 local elections, more than 1,000 would-be voters were turned away from polling stations and did not return.

The UK has very low levels of proven electoral fraud – during last year’s local and mayoral elections, there was not a single proven case of in-person voter fraud.

Critics have also argued there is a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise young people. Bus and travel passes for older and disabled people are being accepted as photo IDs – but the young people’s travel cards is not being permitted.

When this was put to Jenrick, he dismissed a “confected” issue as he argued: “The evidence is that of the set of ID we’ve created, you are more likely to have that ID if you’re a young person than if you’re an older person.”