Norwich MP grilled over controversial election voter ID cards

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith - Credit: Archant

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has defended controversial plans to introduce voter ID for UK elections, amid claims it could lead to people being disenfranchised.

The Conservative MP faced questions over the Elections Bill at a meeting of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

People who want to vote in next year's Norfolk elections have been urged to consider voting by post.

The introduction of voter ID for elections has sparked controversy. - Credit: PA

As minister of state for the constitution and devolution in the Cabinet Office, Ms Smith has been leading the passage of the bill through Parliament.

But proposals that would require people to show photographic ID in order to vote have been controversial - and Ms Smith was grilled on that during Tuesday's meeting.

Ms Smith said: "We think we need to make sure that our elections remain secure.

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"There's been a body of evidence provided by many observers, including the Electoral Commission and the OCSE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) to suggest there is a particular vulnerability in our process where a person can commit personation.

"We think that is a sensible measure which will keep our elections secure."

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But Ronnie Cowan, Scottish National Party MP for Inverclyde, questioned whether the introduction of voter ID was a proportionate response, given Ms Smith could not say how often such personation attempts might happen.

She said there were a "small number" which were identified, but nobody could say how many attempts were made.

She said that meant it would be "irresponsible" were voter ID not to be introduced and that it was a "proportionate response to a problem."

But Mr Cowan raised concerns voter ID could lead to people being disenfranchised from the vote.

He said it had been estimated that 25,000 people in Northern Ireland, where photographic ID cards have been required to vote since 2002, had not voted in 2003 because they did not have the required identification.

He said that was 3.5pc of the electorate and asked whether such a figure would be acceptable in the UK.

She said she was "not interested" in putting a figure on what would be acceptable in the UK, but that she was not looking to see turnout go down and wanted it to stay high.

Ms Smith 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."

She said pilots of photo ID in Woking and Pendle in 2019 showed 123 voters (0.4pc) had been turned away for lacking appropriate ID and did not return.

But she said free electoral ID cards will be made available and a communications campaign would help ensure people understood what they would need in order to vote.

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