Voter ID: more chipping away at UK democracy
Whilst looking for details of candidates in the forthcoming European Elections, an article on the Electoral Commission website caught my eye. Its not good news. Anyone who follows American news closely knows that Voter ID laws have proven ruthlessly effective at preventing minority voters from exercising their democratic rights, and it looks like they’re headed for Britain, too.
Attempts at passing Voter ID laws in America have been playing out on a state-by-state basis for several years. Common tactics include insinuating that certain groups of people have less right to vote, or are clearly up to no good when exercising their rights. Conservative states fearful of rising numbers of black voters, or even younger, more progressive electorates, have used this policy with devastating effect.
The classic tactic is rigging the list of eligible ID documents: the rich drive, the military vote Republican, but students will tilt elections towards the Democrats. Driving licenses and military ID are therefore acceptable, student ID is bad (and don’t even bother asking about welfare documentation). People who’s gender on the passport doesn’t ‘match up’ need not bother turning up. $80 ID registration through a process that accuses people of being illegal immigrants is pushing the poorest and least white to the back of the queue. And this is in a country where ‘constitutional rights’ exist that mean the Supreme Court overturns this kind of legislation sooner or later.
Digging through the documents, campaigners became immediately aware that the statements from officials regarding voter fraud bore no resemblance to reality – voter fraud was miniscule, and most of the reporting was based on hyperbole from right wing commentators. Rather than defending against perception with facts, this distortion was a perfect ruse to deliver favoured election results.
And its exactly the same in the UK Electoral Commission’s announcement. “Fraud is not widespread in the UK but, despite this, a significant proportion of the public remain concerned that it is taking place.” So its not designed to tackle a problem, its designed to give legitimacy to people’s belief that their neighbours are on the fiddle. And where might this fraud be happening? Check the news item’s notes, and we get:
Birmingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Burnley, Calderdale, Coventry, Derby, Hyndburn, Kirklees, Oldham, Pendle, Peterborough, Slough, Tower Hamlets, Walsall, and Woking.
Its not that every one of these places contains a significant minority population. Several are BNP favourites for stirring race hatred, most contains at least pockets of biting poverty. Talk of addressing “the vulnerability of some South Asian communities to electoral fraud” is both patronising and stigmatising. If we’re following the ‘advice’ of the Republican Governors’ Association, we can expect billboards targeting ethnic minority areas with messages about voter fraud, thus further isolating and stigmatising these groups, and giving legitimacy to racial tensions within these areas.
The cost of getting ID in to the hands of every eligible voter in these areas will be vast – the communities themselves are unlikely to be able to meet these costs. Non-English speakers will find this process most difficult, with accusations of ineligibility. The elderly, who are used to voting in every election, will turn up to be told they’re no longer entitled to vote – particularly if they have given back their driver’s license and allowed their passport to lapse through lack of ability to travel.
The only good news I can give is that Voter ID laws can be defeated, but only through concerted effort targeting the racist underpinnings of these policies and the effect they will have on excluding voters, rather than preventing fraud. We need to be prepared to show how any system will ultimately leave any real fraud untouched whilst disenfranchising the most marginalised within our society.
Yet another attack on democracy, and yet another case of the UK Right following that of America in pushing a carefully drilled anti-minority agenda to bend democracy in their favour.