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The Great British Vote Robbery: Report Reveals Democratic Disaster of UK’s New Voter ID Laws

Electoral Commission finds that at least 14,000 people were denied their fundamental right to vote. Next year’s General Election could be much worse

Jacob Rees-Mogg was Commons leader when the photo ID policy was being pushed under Boris Johnson. National Conservatism Conference screengrab

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When former Tory Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted that the government’s new voter ID rules were introduced to “gerrymander” elections, he said what many Conservatives had no doubt quietly known for some time. This was never about reducing fraud: it was about warping our elections for perceived party advantage.

Now we have firm evidence that the policy – introduced for the first time in England this May – discouraged large numbers of potential voters, and disproportionately affected vulnerable groups. But even if it had not done so, the justifications for this policy were ballot-paper thin. 

The Electoral Commission’s interim report on the policy, out today, finds that at least 14,000 people who turned up at polling stations were turned away and didn’t vote.

Put simply, that means their fundamental right to vote was effectively binned under the auspices of “improving trust in elections.” We’ve grown used to such newspeak under this government. But even one voter being denied a vote would have been too many when there was not a single case of proven impersonation fraud last year. 14,000 turned away should be a death knell for the scheme. 

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It is not, however, the full picture. As the EC notes, the 14,000 figure is most likely an underestimate, due to issues with data quality, and the fact that some would-be voters would have been reminded of the ID requirement outside the polling station – turned away before they reached the polling clerk to be recorded. 

Scratch the surface and the whole thing starts to crumble. Four per cent of non-voters did not even attempt to cast their vote, specifically because of the photo ID requirement. Two million people in Britain lack the “right” kind of photo ID. And while older people’s bus passes were A-OK, young people’s Railcards were not. We have yet to receive a rational explanation for why this was the case. 

Where relevant data was available, the Electoral Commission found there was a correlation between the numbers turned away and certain socio-demographic factors like ethnicity and unemployment. Awareness of the rules was lowest among younger age groups (82% for 18 to 24-year-olds), and Black and minority ethnic communities (82%). 

EXCLUSIVE

No Parliamentary Investigation Into Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Comments that Conservatives Introduced Voter ID to ‘Gerrymander’ Elections

Rishi Sunak’s government is Janus-faced — appearing to present as a break from the Johnson years. And yet we see the other side of the face through policies like US-style voter suppression, anti-protest and strike-breaking laws, and the attacks on migrants. Sunak is the technocratic face of an ideologically-charged administration. 

From the Liberal Democrats and SNP to the Electoral Reform Society, multiple voices are calling out the new law and demanding its abolition. As Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research for the ERS says today: “One person being stopped from casting their rightful vote is one too many… The Government needs to scrap this ill-thought-through and unnecessary scheme to prevent similar scenes unfolding at a General Election.”

Local authorities are particularly concerned about the findings mean for a General Election when the turnout will be much higher. As Tom Brake, Director of Unlock Democracy, told us, the numbers excluded then will be “far more”. Like many others in the democracy sector, he is calling for the government to “scrap this costly, unnecessary, and discriminatory policy immediately.”

If the same proportion of people were turned away at next year’s parliamentary elections, it would equate to over 80,000 people. By contrast, there have been just a handful of cases of impersonation fraud over the past decade across Britain. 

EXCLUSIVE

Special Investigation: Voter ID– From Free Voting to ‘Papers Please’: Experiences from England’s Experiment in US-Style ‘Voter Suppression’

In the latest in a series of damning testimonies from voters across England, Byline Times reveals how the new mandatory voter ID requirements have created confusion, frustration – and potentially a real risk of discrimination. Josiah Mortimer reports.

Labour’s response is noteworthy for its lack of any policy recommendation. Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader, said: “No legitimate voter should be locked out of democracy but that has been the effect of the Tories’ failed voter ID regulations.” And yet the party can only go as far to say a “comprehensive review” – already required by law – should be conducted without “dither and delay.” Democracy-denyers will be quaking in their boots.

We knew this car crash was coming – Byline Times reported on the plans extensively and spoke to many voters left out in the cold. Now our official opposition needs to set out what they’d do to restore the democratic process. And civil society must make registering people with free ID an absolute priority ahead of next year’s General Election, or this May’s vote robbery will look like a walk in the park. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg may have been half-right in saying the policy “backfired” for the Tories in the local elections. The party was still routed, and some older Tory voters without ID may have stayed at home. But the collateral damage for the rest of us was far greater.

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com


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