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