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Opinion

Why the Tory attempt to restrict voting rights is an attack on Welsh democracy

24 Jan 2022 5 minutes Read
Voting in Wales

Rhys ab Owen MS, Plaid Cymru spokesperson for the Constitution and Justice

From the Chartists to the Suffragettes, the right to vote has been long and hard-fought for by the people.

Any curtailing of this right not only threatens to undermine all our rights, it threatens our way of life, and the foundations of democracy itself.

Any attempt to restrict voting rights should be met with the fiercest and unrelenting scrutiny. Plaid Cymru in the Senedd on Wednesday will lead a debate against the Westminster Government’s draconian Elections Bill.

This is not the first step down the authoritarian brick road made by this Conservative Government. This is another example how Westminster isn’t working for Wales.

We can see in the way that they are trying to silence protest, trying to strip citizenship without justification, and now this, that the Tory Government is trying to make it harder for people to vote.

Cases of voter fraud in Britain are so minimal that they are practically non-existent. One conviction of voter impersonation in 2017, 0 in 2018, and 0 in 2019. It really is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There is no justification for replicating the Republican party gerrymandering on this side of the Atlantic.

It is ironic of the 99 Conservative MPs in Westminster that rebelled against Johnson’s Government on COVID passes, 85 of them then voted to introduce voter ID. Among them two former Secretary of States for Wales, John Redwood and David Jones. One English Tory MP cited reservations about COVID passes in fear of becoming a “papers please” society”. Well, what about voter ID please?

This Bill will impact Police and Crime Commissioners elections in both England and Wales. As we saw in 2021, sometimes elections coincide with one another. This could cause some people to be turned away from voting in Senedd elections, or local Welsh elections, because they have no photographic ID.

Voters were turned away

When the UK Government tested voter ID pilots in 2019, more than 1,000 voters were turned away for not having the correct form of ID.

Of these 1,000, 338 voters did not return, which is equal to one-third of voters. Another pilot in 2019 which allowed people to show photo ID or two pieces of specified non-photo ID, 2,000 people were refused the right to vote, and 750 did not return. These are frightening statistics, collected by the same government that is looking to implement these policies.

The question is why? Why would this Tory Government ignore such important statistics and pilots?

In a time where turn-out for elections are low, with General Elections sitting at 60%, and Senedd elections struggling to reach above 50%, why would we want to limit people, and dissuade them from sharing their voices and their opinions with us?

This Bill effects everyone, but it’s undeniable that is effects the most vulnerable in our society much more disproportionately. The Electoral Commission found that 7.5% of the UK electorate did not have any form of photo ID, equal to 3.5 million. A more recent Government commission from March 2021 found that 4% of people did not have any recognisable ID, equating to 2.1 million people.

American Civil Rights group have even condemned this Bill, arguing that it amounts to voter suppression tactics often used by Donald Trump’s Republican Party to disenfranchise voters from demographic groups which often don’t support them.

Disability

Polling conducted by YouGov on behalf of #HandsOffOurVote found that 5% of people with a disability did not hold any of the accepted forms of photo ID, amounting to around half a million people.

Additional research found that BAME voters will be drastically impacted by this Bill. The Electoral Reform Society, citing the UK Government’s own statistics, say that 38% of Asian voters, 31% of people of mixed ethnicity and 48% of Black citizens do not currently hold any form of photo ID.

Numerous homeless charities have highlighted that casting their ballot is already much harder for homeless people, and this Bill will make it more difficult for them, from access, to forms of identification, to costs of application and replacement. Add to this the lack of digital access and no proof of address then it becomes nearly impossible.

Transgender and nonbinary voters will also be effectively barred from casting their ballot. Stonewall UK found that 86% had problems with their photo ID. 34% because the photo did not match their appearance, 32% because of an incorrect name and 20% because their gender did not match that of their ID.

Democracies represent the voices of their citizens. A democracy which fails to include it citizens, or bars or gags them from voicing their opinion is a democracy in freefall.

That is why Plaid Cymru opposes this Bill. It is blatant attempt to disenfranchise Welsh citizens, especially ones that have been marginalised and persecuted across the centuries.


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Arwyn
Arwyn
3 months ago

Welcome to the Tory State. Did I ever mention Welsh Independence? Look it up! Sounds like a good idea to me.

CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago

Instead of telling us why you don’t like this, why not offer practical, indy-focused solutions? Plaid seem unelectable to voters outside our traditional base because of this type of obstructionist and, frankly, under-researched waffle. Why not suggest that all Welsh citizens be provided valid ID from birth? Are Plaid really claiming that citizenship (and thus eligibility to vote) should be ascertained by say-so? Are Plaid advocating for “absolute democracy”, the kind of system that all but guarantees an eventual tyranny? I thought we were republicans – this objection is entirely out of step with such ideals. But it’s right on… Read more »

Lyn Thomas
Lyn Thomas
3 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

There is not a problem of fraudulent voting in here, not in terms of voting in person. There are well documented abuses of the postal vote system, care homes and some parties have “farmed” votes in the past, but ID for people voting in person would do nothing to solve these abuses.

CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago
Reply to  Lyn Thomas

That’s as maybe, but the problem here is a symptom of ‘follow the leader’ politics – the ‘Right’/the powers that be/ruling party propose a fix to a problem (real or imagined) only for the ‘other side’ to fall over themselves seeking any data, any contrary point or an assumed negative outcome in order to block. Is this how we want politics to be done? If that’s the current conceptualization of ‘democracy’, you can keep it. It’s a child’s idea of politics, stifling both progress and conservation of tradition – political purgatory. A separate nation, unencumbered by the byzantine nature of… Read more »

Paul
Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

No legislation is required. The bill is a sUpposed solution to a problem that does not exist.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
3 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

In the whole of Wales there were a handful of investigations in 2019 and one politician was convicted of a nomination fraud. Nobody was accused of in person voter fraud, Dyfed Powys, North Wales and Gwent had not a single case between them and right across the UK only 24% of 364 cases involved voter fraud nearly all involving postal voting which ID cannot solve!
The Bill is akin to pulling every child’s every tooth out at 12 to prevent one of them needing one crown in 50 years time.

CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

I agree that voter fraud is minimal, but nevertheless needs shoring up and securing as tight as possible (so we don’t expose ourselves to American style, partisan nonsense in future). Pulling out kids teeth would be barbaric – requiring ID to vote is hardly that, no? But I agree that, if enough people find it tough getting the requisite form of ID then we should prioritise easy, ubiquitous ID acquisition for all citizens. I don’t believe that the Right is good on this either – they tend towards a ‘service guaranteea citizenship’ approach that’s too draconian. But a functioning democracy… Read more »

Phil
Phil
3 months ago

I tend to distrust any figures that are associated with Stonewall and so do many of the organisations who previously used their supplied services.
Also, I doubt that Chartists and Suffragettes were over-concerned with the lack of photo ID being held by transgender and non-binary voters.

CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

As dodgy as this “charity” may have become on many fronts, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of their data. The problem is that it doesn’t add to the argument put forth by Plaid. The ‘see, we have numbers’ form of rhetoric is becoming less trusted in the digital age – we don;t care about the data, it’s you analysis that matters. Show me that it is a real encumbrance for anyone, show us all that it is impossible/incredibly difficult to attain a photo ID. Put simply, it isn’t (save for those who are ineligible to do so,… Read more »

Andrew Redman
Andrew Redman
3 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

The problem of students potentially having 2 addresses to cast their votes has been found to be a problem. What percentage of the Welsh population have NO form of identification of any sort to confirm their identity? I agree there can still be a few that are unable to provide such but there are charities that work with the homeless and therefor should be able to advise any solution to their problems of voter entitlement?

CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Redman

I totally agree that there will be a reasonable remedy for any gaps in the system – as a (not ideologically possessed) left winger, I would like ideas put forward to ensure that all who are able to get a form of ID that’d be appropriate for voting should have one, and at the minimum possible expense – wide ranging public service announcements, working alongside NGOs and local govs, big push on the value of voting and the necessity of safeguarding. Today’s leftists seem intent on undermining the democratic process by loosening the safeguards on election integrity so much that… Read more »

Phil
Phil
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Sorry… I forgot about the Rebecca Rioters…. They may have had genuine cross-dressers in their ranks… We’ll never know

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
3 months ago

The Tories will do whatever it takes to stay in power. If that means stopping people voting somehow – so be it. It is one of the reasons why we need independence to solidify our democracy and pretect ourselves from such rogue behaviour

Last edited 3 months ago by Steve Duggan
Roderich Heier
Roderich Heier
3 months ago

I am retired. I pay my bills by direct debit so have no paper ones. My passport is out of date and I have no intention of renewing it as my health won’t really allow me to travel anymore. I also have an old paper driving licence and really don’t see that I should be put to the trouble and expense of getting a photo one, which I could afford to do but what about those who can’t. If photo ID. is brought in I am effectively disenfranchised.

Phil
Phil
3 months ago
Reply to  Roderich Heier

Like me, too. Some accept a bus pass, others don’t. Pot Luck!

Roderich Heier
Roderich Heier
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

I don’t even have a bus pass. The bus service round here is so bad that there’s no point.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
3 months ago

This comment was not accepted at first blush. Blowed if I know why. Then said to be “approved”. But didn’tt appear. Ffs, Nation.Cymru, I have some knowledge of US affairs, and want to advance Wales. What’s the problem? Almost agreed with you, Rhys. But “undermine the foundations of democracy itself” is OTT. Let me help you on the left to get this straight. In the USA there is a long tradition of electoral corruption eg Joe Kennedy was “too mean to buy JFK a landslide” Democrats particularly hot on vote rigging in the big cities NY, Chicago etc. Read any… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
3 months ago

Interesting. Given the Tory majority at Westminster, it is likely that voter ID will be passed and we shall have to cope with it. It strikes me that the Welsh Government could, perhaps, make a supplementary regulation that allows voters to use either the English ID or their NHS ‘card’. We would, of course need to spend some money on helping NHS Wales issue all their registered residents with a small card. That would, at least, ‘capture’ all the residents of Wales except the poor folks who are homeless. Alternatively, the Senedd could make voter’s polling cards an alterntive to… Read more »

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