Our 2019 battle: stopping Tory voter suppression plans

Nancy Platts

This may come as a surprise. Behind the chaos of Brexit, the Tories have actually been moving forward with some of their plans – and we should all be concerned. In May, the government trialled a dangerous policy to ban those without the right ID from voting in election.

Out of 45 million votes last year, there were just 28 allegations of ‘personation’ – the type of fraud mandatory voter identification is aimed at. (Only one was solid enough to result in conviction.) Compare that ‘28’ figure to the 350 people actually denied their vote because of ID restrictions in this year’s pilots… in just five council areas. We’re starting to get a picture of what a threat to democracy this ‘show your papers’ policy will be. 

Now the Tories are planning more trials – as a fait accompli to a national roll-out of the plans. Legal advice seen by the Electoral Reform Society in June showed the voter ID trials could be unlawful as they were imposed by ministerial diktat rather than through parliament. Antony Peto QC, from the leading Blackstone Chambers, suggested that ministers acted beyond the scope of the law in ordering the trial of compulsory voter identification.

Neil Coughlan – from one of next year’s trial areas, Braintree – is crowdfunding for a legal challenge of the trials, as he does not have access to photo ID. If you’re looking for a good cause to support this Christmas, or simply an opportunity to defend our democracy, this would be a good place to start.

As Neil doesn’t have any form of photo ID, he fears many like him will be unable to vote in his local council elections next year, during which the policy is being trialled. In total, there are 11 councils trialling the policy next year following on from five that took place this year. Make no mistake: the barriers to democracy are going up all around us.

If Neil is successful in his legal challenge, then the pilots could not be run without  parliamentary debate and passing legislation. He is seeking to raise £10,000 to help pay court and lawyers’ costs but only has until the beginning of January to do so. So far he’s raised over £4,000 – but it’s looking tight with just over two weeks to go. If he doesn’t reach £10,000, the case is highly unlikely to go ahead and none of the funds will be brought forward.

Last month’s elections in the US showed just how dangerous voter suppression policies are, while being completely ineffective at solving the problem of voter fraud. The only type of fraud it could potentially deal with is ‘personation fraud’ in which someone pretends to be someone else at the polling station in order to ‘steal’ their vote. And yet this type is incredibly rare.

At any rate, the threat to democracy isn’t people wandering around in trench coats pretending to be others. We should be looking at the way Prime Ministers can stuff the House of Lords with friends and donors, how our election campaign rules haven’t been updated since the advent of broadband in the UK, and the fact that ministers frequently try to dodge the will of parliament.

A national roll-out of voter ID would also be hugely expensive. Figures released earlier in the year showed it could cost up to £20m per general election. £10,000 to prevent this expensive attack on democracy is not much to ask.

The policy has been ill-thought through from the start, and yet the government appears determined to push ahead with it. There is huge opposition from civil society groups to voter ID, many of which represent already marginalised groups which could be hit the hardest.

If you can chip in to one campaign this Christmas, help stop these dangerous voter suppression plans by signing up on this page. Mandatory voter identification is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Thankfully, there’s still a chance to put that sledgehammer down.

Nancy Platts is former union advisor to Jeremy Corbyn and coordinates the Politics for the Many campaign.

Support the crowdfunder here.

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