Opinion: Clamp down on politicians, not voters
PUBLISHED: 10:30 24 October 2019
Proposals to make people show photo identification before they can vote are back. It's one more attack on our democracy from Boris Johnson, aimed at disenfranchising thousands, if not millions, of people.
Announced in the Queen's Speech last week, the plans would require all voters to produce photographic ID when voting. Currently you are not required to prove your identity at the polling station, but there was a pilot of models of voter identification in the 2019 Local Elections across a dozen local authorities. To its credit, Camden Council which, unlike some London authorities, has a good record in running elections efficiently, resisted being one of those areas and stayed out of the pilot.
Two of these pilot areas specifically applied the photo ID restrictions being proposed now. As a result, across Woking and Pendle, nearly 400 people were turned away from polling stations without their documents, and over 100 of them did not come back and lost their votes. If extended across the country, these restrictions could see many more people affected, especially in London where people move in, out and around our city more than most. A report from December 2015 by the independent Electoral Commission said that about 3.5million electors did not have an acceptable form of photo ID.
Not all people are affected equally by the disenfranchisement this policy would bring. Photo ID takes money, time, a settled life and organised paperwork to sort out, and not everyone who is entitled to a say in elections has all of these. In 2017, a University of California study found that strict voter ID laws in the US tended to "skew democracy" in favour of white people and those on the political right.
Above all, this policy is not proportional to any existing problem with individual voter fraud: there was just one conviction for voter impersonation at the last general election, and this is not something that warrants shutting out thousands of honest people from their voting rights.
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In contrast to voters, fraud and corruption from election campaigners has been a problem in an important recent election.
Since the 2016 referendum, both main Leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activity, and Vote Leave was fined £61,000. The action we do need is to give the Electoral Commission real powers and sharper teeth to root out electoral fraud at the top.
It's not voters who are damaging democracy in this country - it's Boris Johnson. Hearing proposals to tackle misconduct in elections from the likes of Johnson and Dominic Cummings is like being told how to eat healthily by a Victoria sponge cake.
Voter ID could not be a more blatant attempt to rig the system and disempower poor and marginalised groups.
The only reason the Prime Minister can be proposing this is to shut people who oppose him out of democracy and shut them up.
I know that the real fraudsters are currently living in Downing Street, and I hope they won't be there for much longer.