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Voter suppression is legalised cheating – and it’s coming our way

29 Apr 2023 5 minute read
Photo by Rui Vieira PA Images

Martin Shipton

Until now, the UK has been largely free of the pernicious phenomenon of voter suppression, but that’s in the process of changing.

Next Thursday the first elections will take place at which voters will be expected to produce a proof of their identity before being handed a ballot paper at the polling station.

Previously election officials trusted those presenting themselves to vote as being who they said they were.

The rule being enforced at council elections in England will not apply at local authority elections in Wales when they next take place in 2027. Nor will it be in use at the Senedd election due to take place the previous year. That’s because such elections come under the jurisdiction of the Welsh Government.

The rule will, however, be enforced in Wales at the next UK general election, expected to be held next year, and at future elections of Police and Crime Commissioners covering Welsh police force areas.

Indications from England suggest that large numbers of people are likely to be disqualified from the democratic process.

According to the Conservative government at Westminster, the new rule is necessary to stop voter fraud.

Yet it is indisputably the case that voter fraud is so rare in the UK that hardly anyone has been convicted of it. In 2021 one person was convicted of the crime of “personation” and another acquitted.

Caution

Kent Police issued cautions to two people for the same offence of personation. A woman used her mother’s polling card to try to vote in a local government election after her father suggested doing so. The polling station staff suspected that she was not the voter named on the polling card. Father and daughter both accepted a caution after the police had obtained advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.

In 2022 there were no proven cases of personation at all.

Tackling voter fraud in the UK would seem to be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a non-existent nut.

But while that may be an accurate way of looking at the situation, it’s also naive.

The fact is that the Conservatives are borrowing from a right-wing playbook that has been deployed in the United States since not long after the Civil War in the 1860s.

In the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, Southern states passed so-called Jim Crow laws – named after a pejorative term for black people – to suppress poor and racial minority voters. These included poll taxes and literacy tests.

Most of such voter suppression tactics were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was President.

Racial discrimination

However, there has continued to be racial discrimination against black voters, especially in the Southern states. In 2018, for example, 87,000 people in Georgia were unable to vote because they were deemed to have registered late.

It’s the case that many of the strictest voting regulations are in swing states and have been enacted primarily by Republican Party politicians. According to an investigation by American Public Media, “A disproportionate number of those potential voters were people of colour or young voters, groups that typically favour Democrats.”

Voter suppression can take a variety of forms. An analysis of a Florida election in 2012 found that more than 200,000 people didn’t vote because of long queues at polling stations, mostly in areas where people tended to vote Democrat. Some were forced to wait between six and seven hours before they could cast their ballot, and many gave up.

In 2013, after the US Supreme Court struck down a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act, several states enacted voter ID laws. Many argue that such laws amount to voter suppression against African-Americans.

Imported

Interestingly, voter ID is the method of voter suppression being imported by the Conservatives into the UK.

Under the new arrangements, valid forms of ID that will be accepted by polling clerks include passports, driving licences and older or disabled person’s bus passes. The list does not, however, include bus passes held by younger people, who coincidentally – or maybe not – are less likely to vote Conservative.

People without any of the qualifying documents could apply for a free alternative, known as a Voter Authority Certificate.

But when the deadline to apply to get a certificate in time for England’s local elections passed earlier this week, only around 4% of those thought to be in need of such a certificate had done so – 85,185 out of around two million.

Many remain unaware of the new rule, despite the efforts of the UK Government and council officials responsible for running the elections.

Police forces across England have been alerted to the fact that there could be trouble at some polling stations when would-be voters are turned away.

It’s all so unnecessary and, fairly obviously, part of the toxic legacy of Trump. Who can doubt that the Tories learned of such tactics at his knee?

Increase turnout

In Wales, the drive since devolution has been to increase voter turnout. It’s a matter of frustration that at all six National Assembly and now Senedd elections, there has never been an instance when at least 50% of those registered to vote have done so.

There have been various initiatives aimed at increasing turnout among certain groups, like the young – especially now the voting age has gone down to 16 at Senedd and council elections – and people from ethnic minorities.

It must be very demoralising for those involved in such efforts to see a measure introduced that is aimed not at increasing the number of voters but at reducing turnout still further.

Voter suppression is, at the end of the day, no more than legalised cheating. It’s a disgrace and it shames those who are introducing it.

Let’s hope the next non-Tory Westminster government gets rid of it.


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Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
10 months ago

It may be a vain hope, Martin, to expect an incoming Labour government in Westminster that will abolish all voter suppression practices. They are planning to retain First-Past-The-Post after all. If we seek a fair and democratic Cymru, only independence will achieve it. Time to stop the Unionists controlling our country!

Erisian
Erisian
10 months ago
Reply to  Neil Anderson

Let us NEVER forget that it was Labour’s refusal to consider PR that started the downward spiral with the Cameron-Clegg coalition.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
10 months ago

Why not go all the way and bar people in Wales from voting at a UK General Election? That would deliver automatic independence. Result!

Mark o'r Bannau
Mark o'r Bannau
10 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

To be fair, it is actually pointless for anyone in Wales to vote in a general election, we make no difference.

George Thomas
George Thomas
10 months ago

It’s so much better to be engaged and ignored than disengaged and ignored.

The former says that the people ignoring us are in the wrong, the latter makes it ambiguous who is at fault.

George Thomas
George Thomas
10 months ago

“Yet it is indisputably the case that voter fraud is so rare in the UK that hardly anyone has been convicted of it. “

I strongly dislike this argument. If there are weaknesses in the process which could allow for fraud, why should we wait until electoral fraud has happened before we take action?

Voter ID is badly managed policy with outcome of stopping genuine people, often the young or vulnerable, voting which is bad enough.

Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
10 months ago

Working class people are the largest demographic on the planet. Naturally, those who would vote for the tories i.e. capitalists are by definition in the minority and the tories would therefore never have the numbers to ever get in power. So they employ industrial levels of propaganda through state owned media to indoctrinate people into voting against their own best interests. One look at the likes of the BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox News, all the phony Youtube “news” channels etc, and compare them to the Russian equivalent of Russia 1, RT, Sputnik etc and you can see preciely how this… Read more »

Barbara Herbert
Barbara Herbert
10 months ago

Introducing compulsory voting solves the problem. I’m Australian by birth and also a British citizen. In Australia I was added to the electoral role at age 18. My husband when we lived in Australia was able to vote as he emigrated there. He had to apply using his emigration documentation. We would have received a fine had we failed to vote.

It is also really simple to register for a postal vote in the UK. You get notified of every opportunity to vote whether it’s local, Wales only or a General Election.

This needs a serious rethink!

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
10 months ago

This is a biased and misleading article. This new practice has not been borrowed from a “right-wing handbook” as claimed by Martin Shipton. Voter ID is used all around the world e.g. Australia, Brazil, Mexico, France, Namibia, Canada, etc. It’s already been in place in Northern Ireland for over two decades. Anyone can search this. Shipton also claims it’s “part of the toxic legacy of Trump.” Further research shows this is false because the Conservatives included voter ID in their 2015 manifesto – BEFORE Trump was elected!

Riki
Riki
10 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Agree…imagine having to have an ID to buy Cigarettes, that slowly hurt people over decades. But not needing to have an ID to prove you are who you say you are, and that you have a stake in the future of the nation you live in. It’s so crazy to me that you need an ID in virtually every area in life and that this is acceptable, yet this isn’t. The problem with this idea is how it’s implemented and overseen. Not the Idea itself.

George Thomas
George Thomas
10 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

But who doesn’t currently have ID? And what ID is being accepted? And why should it be made that much harder to vote? That’s where the right-wing nature of this policy come through.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
10 months ago

If the Tories want to recreate the violence of Peterloo and the Westgate hotel then voter restriction is a good start.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
10 months ago

The Tories hope to stop many young people voting – but they forget these young people will not be young forever – and they won’t forget being disenfranchised. The Tories are still on course to become the dodo party in the near future.

Riki
Riki
10 months ago

So let me get this straight…you need ID for almost anything and everything, yet You are telling me it shouldn’t be required to prove who you say you are? Our Nations future is at stake and only people who can vote should be those who are legally allowed to. People who can prove they have a stake in the nations future!!! Let’s not forget how the English dragged us out of the EU because they were allowed to vote in Wales….when they shouldn’t have been. Need an ID to drive, sure! but not to prove you have a future in… Read more »

Rob
Rob
10 months ago

So if the next Police and Crime Commissioner and Senedd elections are held at the same time you will need an ID to vote in one thing but not the other? As far as I know there is no history of controversy or voter fraud in Welsh or UK elections as their has been in America. Even before Trump there was the fiasco in Florida in 2000 which gave the world George W Bush, and voter ID didn’t prevent the ridiculous claim that the election was stolen from Trump, which led to the events of 6th January 2021. If we… Read more »

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