“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” former President Bill Clinton.
In the US, civil rights groups opposed voter ID laws because, they say, they discriminate against low-income and minority voters — groups that tend to vote Democratic. About 25 percent of eligible black voters and 16 percent of Hispanic voters did not have photo ID, compared with 9 percent of whites, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
The center says many poor voters can’t afford cars or vacations abroad, and thus don’t have driver’s licenses or passports, and will be unfairly burdened by the cost of obtaining birth certificates and travelling to a government agency to secure a photo ID. In a recent opinion condemning Wisconsin’s voter ID law, US Circuit Judge Richard Posner — a President Reagan appointee — compared the laws to the poll tax implemented to stop blacks from voting in the Jim Crow–era South.
“The only reason to impose voter ID laws”, said Posner, “is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” The available evidence indicates that voting fraud in the US was not a problem. In states such as Texas, citizens could apply for a “free election ID card”, but then have to pay for the official documents that are needed to apply for the cards.
Voter suppression is an attempt to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a government. The tactics of voter suppression range from seemingly minor changes to make voting difficult or less convenient for some demographic groups, to psychologically and physically intimidating and attacking prospective voters, which is illegal.
Voter suppression works if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the US states most likely to enact voting restrictions were states with the highest African-American turnout in the 2008 election.
Gerrymandering isn’t confined to recognisably despotic regimes. The US – “the land of the free” has shown a proclivity towards making democracy conditional. So has the UK.
Any law that presents reduced choice and bureaucratic barriers to voting in elections for the poorest citizens – in this case, it may mean going without food or fuel in order to fulfil the conditions to vote – is not indicative of a functioning democracy.
Yet the wealthiest citizens tend to vote more frequently. Nonvoters are more likely to be poor, young, or from an ethnic background. Some research also indicates they’re more likely to align with the Democratic Party in the states, and the Labour party in the UK.
Currently in the UK, in order to vote, it is compulsory for members of a household to register before every election. The ‘head of the household’ (a Tory anachronism) is obliged to provide their National Insurance number, name other family members of voting age in the household and provide dates of birth for family members. Individual family members then also have to register to vote individually.
Voters must be on the electoral roll in order to vote in national, local or European elections. A fixed address is also required in order for an individual to vote in an election. To provide for persons who are considered ‘transient’, if an individual lacking a fixed address wants to vote, they may register by filling in a ‘Declaration of local connection’ form. This establishes a connection to the area based on the last fixed address someone had, or the place where they spend a substantial amount of their time (e.g. a homeless shelter).
Those eligible to vote are sent a confirmatory polling card with a voter ID number on it. When that is presented at the polling station, citizens’ details are already on a list there, and each person is ticked off once they turn up to vote, after providing their identifying details.
That is effectively a voter ID system, which is already in place. The card is an ID card, which the council issues when they know that you are authentic and eligible to vote.
The UK government has recently announced controversial plans to prevent people from voting unless they can provide photographic identification, prompting accusations it is attempting to “rig the next election”. These are reasonable allegations, on the premise that any barrier placed in front of the democratic right to vote of some groups in a population is discriminatory.
Current proposals by the Conservative Party to require one of several forms of expensive photo ID in order to vote are likely to reduce the turnout of young and poor voters, who are more likely to vote for the Labour party.
The government was previously told to ditch its controversial voter ID policy after new analysis found that it had stopped “thousands” of people voting in local elections in the limited trials in 2017 and 2018. Bearing in mind that this was a limited trial, that number proportionally replicated at a national level would fundamentally damage our democracy.
Charities including Age UK and Liberty have joined forces with groups such as the Electoral Reform Society to demand that the government stop the “dangerous and undemocratic” policy. The LGC analysis suggests that the number of people turned away could have influenced the election result in some areas. In Mid Sussex, 78 people were denied a vote and there were three cases in which a candidate won by less than 25 votes.
Demanding a rethink of the policy in March last year, a group of 40 charities and academics said Electoral Commission figures showed there were only 28 allegations of impersonation out of almost 45 million votes in 2017, and one conviction.
“Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons,” said their letter, sent to the government.
“Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless.”
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said last year: “There is anecdotal evidence emerging from the pilot areas that people have been denied their democratic right to vote because of the voter ID requirements.
“Thousands of people were told they could not vote because of “draconian” ID requirements in five local election areas on 3 May 2018, according to analysis by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).
Based on figures released by electoral observers at ID trial area polling stations, the ERS estimate 3,981 people were denied a ballot paper across the five pilot areas (1.67 per cent of those who tried to vote).
Voter ID trials took place in Bromley, Woking, Gosport, Watford and Swindon in what the campaigners have branded a “dark day for politics.”
Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Britain prides itself on being a leading democracy – but it is a dark day for politics when thousands of blameless people turn out to vote only to be refused.
“Our estimates, based on evidence gathered by electoral observers, reveal the shocking scale of the problem. These trials have been shown up to be the chaotic, undemocratic mess many predicted.
“This is exactly what we feared: that this draconian measure would result in blameless individuals being disenfranchised.”
The Labour party said the figures proved that the voter ID trial should be “abandoned immediately” and accused the government of frank voter suppression.
In a country without universal, free or cheap access to ID, such a move is dangerous, misguided and profoundly undemocratic. The policy will make it harder for millions of ordinary citizens to vote. A 2015 Electoral Commission report, for example, pointed out that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, while 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence.
The government claims that the introduction of voter ID will tackle fraud and corruption, in particular “personation”. But this is a completely disproportionate response to the extremely rare incidence of personation at the polling station.
Official figures show that of the 266 cases of electoral fraud investigated by police in 2018, personation fraud at the polling station accounted for just eight of the allegations made. No further action was taken for seven of these allegations, and one was locally resolved.
At the last election, several Tory MPs claimed that many young people had voted more than once. However, following over a thousand formal complaints to the Electoral Commission, upon investigation there was no evidence found to substantiate these claims.
Some Conservatives claim very loudly that the Labour party have “double standards” since ID is required to attend Labour party meetings. However, this is a typical Tory diversion strategy. The proof of ID requirement is true of all parties, and a party membership card is issued free of charge to party members.
The request to present membership cards at Labour party meetings is reasonable, in any case, since the Conservatives have a track record of attempting to deceitfully infiltrate Labour party meetings to use illegal entrapment methods to fuel their own smear tactics and propaganda campaigns.
The Tories have created a hostile environment for disadvantaged voters
We may debate whether election results would be different if the entire population voted, but voting determines more than which candidate or party wins or loses. It ultimately influences which policies elected officials enact and whose interests candidates ignore and acknowledge.
Research in the US found that nonvoters are more likely, for example, to support a redistribution of wealth, affordable housing and expanded social safety net programmes, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. Many would-be voters face a range of barriers, including: voter ID laws, registration difficulty, being disabled or having criminal records. Hundreds of thousands of nonvoters want to vote, but can’t.
If you think the government’s new emphasis on further ID documentation for voting is a good idea, well, universal credit and the welfare ‘reforms’ were presented as good ideas. But the Tories are never honest about their real aims, and those aims are invariably much less than as honourable as they try to claim.
After all, the last group of people who were asked to provide documentation of their ID – which had been placed in the care of the Home Office, under Theresa May – were the Windrush generation citizens. That didn’t end well.
This move for further costly ID evidence is simply another hostile environment designed to ensure that as few people as possible who would most likely vote for the Labour party will be permitted to do so. Many people with low income can’t afford to drive or pay for/renew their passport.
There will be other as yet unforeseen problems too. The limited trial run at the last election saw thousands of people being turned away without being allowed to vote. At a national level, this would have massive implications for our democracy.
The authoritarianism of the Conservative has become increasingly apparent over the last nine years. From “dark ads”, the development of hostile environments, grubby organisations that spend all their time smearing the opposition to the misuse of psychological behaviourism to alter and micromanage the perceptions of citizens concerning the government’s draconian austerity policies, to the increased use of secondary legislation, in the form of statutory instruments to sidestep democracy and hammer through very controversial legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.
And of course, authoritarians don’t do rights or democracy.
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