Cat Smith MP - Voter ID is blatant voter suppression
After another shambolic set of pilots, this Government must abandon its dangerous policy immediately, writes Cat Smith MP.
It is now clear that the Government’s fixation with Voter ID is a blatant attempt by the Tories to rig the result of future elections through voter suppression. Newly published statistics show that 750 people were denied a vote at May’s local elections because of controversial pilot schemes, which required people in 10 local authority areas to show ID before casting a ballot. With similar pilots delivered last year, this means over 1000 voters have been disenfranchised as a direct result of Government policy.
For years Labour warned that restrictive identification requirements in polling stations would make it harder for people to vote, including the 3.5 million citizens (7.5% of the electorate) in this country who do not have access to photo ID. Our concern is shared by swathes of academics and charities – including Age UK, the National Union of Students, Operation Black Vote, the Salvation Army and Stonewall – who have all come out and condemned the Government’s proposals, highlighting the negative impact it will have on disadvantaged and excluded groups.
Let’s not forget the Windrush scandal, which also demonstrated very clearly that it could be more difficult for some communities to provide official documentation, which would prevent legitimate voters from taking part in our democratic process. It is the same hostile environment all over again heading towards authoritarianism, shutting out our fellow citizens from public life, and treating communities who made Britain their home as second-class citizens.
It is shameful that the Government ploughed ahead with their undemocratic and unpopular proposals regardless of the consequences. Countless citizens were denied a voice in our democratic process, including an 87-year-old woman in Pendle who has voted in every election in her adult life.
The Government claims that Voter ID will tackle voter fraud in polling stations. Fortunately, this is an incredibly rare event. In 2017, there were 28 allegations of impersonation out of nearly 45 million votes cast. This figure fell to 8 claims in 2018, all of which required no further action or were resolved locally. Trust in our democratic system is vital, which is why strategies to tackle fraud should be evidence-based.
Overseas we see similar tactics, with right-wing politicians in the US manipulating people’s concerns about voter fraud to build support for repressive voter ID laws. This policy is part of an ongoing strategy to roll back decades of progress on voting rights. Research from the University of California San Diego found that strict identification laws caused voter turnout in US general election to drop by 5 per cent among individuals from minority groups.
We cannot allow the Tories to follow a similar path of voter suppression. The right to vote lies at the very heart of our democracy, and it is disgraceful that the Tories are trying to take this away from us. After another shambolic set of pilots, this Government must abandon its dangerous policy immediately.
Cat Smith is Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs and MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood North West.