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Voter ID: Hundreds of Thousands Risk Being Turned Away From Polls, Leading Human Rights Group Warns

Human rights group Liberty says there is a “huge risk” of large numbers of voters being denied their democratic rights

People will be denied a vote in the General Election unless they show photo ID. Photo: Electoral Reform Society

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Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of being turned away from polling stations over issues with voter ID on July 4th, a human rights organisation has warned. 

This General Election is the first to require voter ID, introduced in 2022 under the Conservatives’ Elections Act. 

Neither the Conservatives or Labour have pledged to repeal the voter ID law – though the Conservatives have promised to allow former servicemen and women to use their veterans ID cards, following revelations first published in Byline Times about a decorated army veteran being denied a vote. Labour has promised to review the policy, and is likely to add more acceptable IDs to the list. 

Sam Grant, advocacy director for the renowned human rights organisation Liberty, told a press conference on Tuesday that due to changes passed in recent years: “We have less of a right to protest, we have less of a right to vote, and it’s harder to take public institutions to court. 

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“There’s a huge risk of disenfranchisement through this policy. In last year’s local elections, four percent of the people who said that they didn’t vote, didn’t vote because of voter ID rules.

“If you extrapolate that up, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people not being able to vote at this general election. And the stories that we saw coming out from the local elections – of older people being turned away, veterans being turned away, Boris Johnson forgetting his ID: these are all things that are going to be very common stories that we see on Election Day,” Grant said. 

The four percent figure is from detailed Electoral Commission surveys of voters and non-voters in the 2023 local elections. 

There were 47.6 million registrations on the electoral roll in 2020, according to the latest Government figures. Four percent would equate to around 1.9 million people not voting due to the ID rules, and this does not include those turned away at the polling station for a lack of the “right” photo ID.

“Our firm belief is that voter ID is an unnecessary barrier and it’s solving a problem that doesn’t exist. We’ll be pushing parties to reverse this policy,” Grant added. 


The Answer, Not the Problem

The warning comes as Liberty, Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Watch, Freedom From Torture and Inclusion London, addressed journalists in Westminster this morning. 

The UK’s leading human rights organisations have said human rights provide the solutions to “some of the biggest problems” facing the UK, and should not be viewed as a problem, but the answer to issues like poverty and the cost of living crisis, through guaranteed rights to things like housing and food. 

The organisations have called for greater scrutiny of human rights policy in the election campaign period – and politicians pledging to “crack down” on British liberties protected through the Human Rights Act.  

The Labour manifesto commits to staying in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which has faced relentless attack from the right of the Conservative party, and parts of the press. Rishi Sunak has branded the European Court of Human Rights a “foreign court”, despite British judges sitting on it and the UK being a driving force behind the organisation after the horrors of World War II. 

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The Conservative manifesto says the party would prioritise “security” over ECHR membership if “forced to choose”. Nigel Farage’s Reform Party pledges to leave the ECHR altogether, which would throw Britain’s trade deal with the EU, the Good Friday Agreement – and many other treaties which rely on Britain adhering to human rights standards – into chaos 

The human rights groups warn that politicians are not being challenged enough on the implications, from trade agreements to the UK’s international standing, and the rights of UK residents. 

Attendees heard that the UK has been “turning away” from its traditional role as a global leader on human rights and refugee protection. The Rwanda refugee deportation scheme and other anti-refugee policies mark a retreat from the post-Holocaust consensus on refugee rights, Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture noted. 


Immediate Test

Labour faces an immediate key first test on human rights if elected next month. 

As Adam Bienkov reported in May, the High Court recently ruled that Rishi Sunak’s anti-protest regulations have unlawfully put peaceful protesters at serious and unfair risk of prosecution. 

The court “agreed with a challenge by Liberty claiming that the Government had unlawfully extended the definition of protests which cause ‘serious disruption’ in the legislation to cover protests which had merely caused normal levels of disruption.

This had led to a “substantially increased exposure to criminal sanctions on the part of protestors exercising their civil rights,” the High Court found. 

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Then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman had also failed to properly consult with those likely to be affected by their anti-protest legislation and regulations. Campaigners welcomed the finding as a “huge victory for democracy”, Byline Times reported. 

But the Conservative Government quickly filed an appeal, which is now going to be heard after the General Election in which the party is likely to face a historic rout. 

Asked by Byline Times what Labour might do about protest rights – an issue on which the manifesto is silent – following an election win, Liberty’s Sam Grant said: “We certainly have a concern that in an effort to be tough on crime and punishment, protests will get swept up within that response from Labour.”

As well as ditching the Rwanda deportation scheme, Grant described the anti-protest law appeal in July “the first real test” of a Labour Government on human rights. 

“We would really like to reverse a lot of the crackdown on protests that we’ve seen over the last five or six years. Within that, there are some real egregious powers. Potentially, rather than repeal the whole piece of legislation, you could look at stopping suspicionless stop and search for protesters. You could look at getting rid of noise restrictions over protest, or scrapping the lock-on powers that are seeing more and more people channelled into the criminal justice process for peaceful but disruptive protests.”

Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, added: “What we’ve seen in the Labour manifesto and from [shadow foreign secretary] David Lammy speaking is that recommitment to a rules-based international order. The settlement of that is international human rights. 

“They cannot do that while still having on the books laws that essentially mean that our civic space is nearly closed, or while we’re a pariah on the international stage with respect to refugee rights.”

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Vast Majority of Those Turned Away Over Voter ID in Local Elections Were ‘Non-White’ According to Polling Station Observers

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Leaders Escaping Scrutiny

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, also highlighted the lack of discussion of human rights issues during the campaign, saying that too often politicians ‘derided’ human rights when asked about them. 

“We need to see all political leaders properly scrutinised over their approach to human rights – they’ve been getting far too easy a ride this election campaign and haven’t been pressed enough on this crucial issue.

“It’s not enough to hear a would-be PM being asked simply if they’d be ‘in or out’ of the European Convention on Human Rights. We need to know what they think of the potentially devastating implications departure might have on the fragile peace agreement in Northern Ireland,” he said. 

Some of the major human rights questions “just aren’t being asked” Deshmukh added.

“Would, for example, the candidates support a UK arrest of Benjamin Netanyahu if the International Criminal Court goes ahead and issues an arrest warrant against the Israeli prime minister?  Would they continue to send UK manufactured arms to Israel despite significant evidence of war crimes in Gaza? 

“And would the next Government recognise that a decent standard of safe and dignified housing is a human right, and make that right legally enforceable?”

We could find out in just a few weeks. 

The deadline is approaching to sign up for a free Voter Authority Certificate.

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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