Tories 'dangerous' Voter ID plans will be a barrier for many people exercising their right to vote
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, says Cat Smith MP.
With just one week until the meaningful vote on the government's damaging Brexit deal, all eyes are on the 12 March as the Government runs down the clock closer towards no deal.
Yet this week is also a defining moment for our democracy, as Neil Coughlan - a member of the public - will be taking the Government to the High Court over their dangerous Voter ID plans.
This case is significant for everyone because the Tories want to ban people who don't have ID from voting. In May the Government is running its second round of pilot schemes at local government elections, before they plan to roll out Voter ID at the next general election.
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. Labour is proud to support this legal challenge and we applaud Neil for taking a stand.
The Government will no doubt argue in the courts that Voter ID is a fair and reasonable approach designed to tackle the voter impersonation in polling stations (when someone is pretending to be somebody else in order to cast one fake vote).
Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are 3.5 million electors– that’s 7.5% of the electorate – who do not have photo ID. That makes mandatory voter ID – with no free provision – a barrier to many people exercising their right to vote.
Decades of international studies also show that restrictive ID requirements make it harder for people to vote and exclude some parts of the electorate, all whilst doing little to stop determined fraudsters. According to a recent report by Professor Hajnal from the University of California San Diego, strict identification laws caused voter turnout in US general election to drop by 5 per cent among individuals from minority groups.
It therefore was hardly surprising when hundreds of voters across five pilot areas were denied their right to vote at last year’s local elections. Their crime? Not possessing the right ID.
The stated aim of voter ID is to combat voter fraud. Let’s be clear, electoral fraud is a serious crime and it is vital that the police have the resources they need to bring about prosecution. However, the proposals outlined by the Government are clearly disproportionate – a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Last year there were 28 allegations of impersonation - the type of fraud that voter ID is designed to tackle – out of over 44 million votes cast. That is one allegation for every 1.6 million votes cast. Of these 28 allegations, one case resulted in a conviction. Trust in our democratic system is vital, which is why strategies to tackle fraud should be based on facts.
And on top of all of this, the Government is denying parliament the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s undemocratic plans. They are using, perhaps unlawfully, provisions contained within the Representation of the People Act 2000 which allow the Government to run pilot schemes to test for ways of increasing voter turnout – a far cry from what Voter ID seeks to achieve.
This legal challenge reminds us that we cannot take our right to vote for granted. It is only through the brave and courageous actions of individuals like Neil that our democratic rights are won and protected.
Neil has already crowdfunded over £30,000 to cover his legal fees but needs a final push to see this through to the end. Please do contribute if you can!
Cat Smith is Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood.