Mandatory voter identification is detrimental to democracy – The Oxford Student

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Image Description: Black silhouette of a hand with a watch placing a vote in a ballot box on a white background.

PROPOSAL (Ciara Garcha)

The Equal Franchise Act of 1928 gave women over 21 the right to vote, putting them on an equal footing with men for the first time in British history. Although the voting age was lowered to 18 by law in 1969, universal adult suffrage is the foundation of British democracy – and indeed of any healthy democracy. People of all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds have a right to a say in the governance of the country. Plans to introduce mandatory photographic identification in polling stations therefore represent an attack on this principle and ultimately an attack on our democracy.

To justify the move, Health Secretary Matt Hancock pointed to the tiny problem of voter fraud, saying the 6 cases reported in the last election were “too many.” It is clear – painfully – that these plans are not about electoral fraud. On the contrary, the introduction of identification to vote seems clearly designed to deprive the right to vote and deter specific constituencies from voters.

It is estimated that around 3.5 million people currently do not have photo identification that would allow them to speak out in an election. In addition, the obstacles to acquiring such an identity document are significant. In a number of countries requiring voter ID at polling stations, an inexpensive or free method of identification is usually offered to those who do not hold passports or driver’s licenses. However, in the UK no such option is available and the £ 3.5million lacking proper documentation would therefore be required to spend the £ 85 to get a paper passport or the £ 43 to get a permit to drive provisional.

Such measures have therefore been criticized for having disproportionately targeted people from poorer and marginalized communities. LGBTQI + organizations, homeless charities and activists from various other communities have expressed concerns that these plans disproportionately target particular segments of society. This incidentally includes minority ethnic communities, who are more likely to vote for Labor, and members of the working class, who have also traditionally and largely continued to vote for Labor (although a class disagreement has been noted these last years). It has been reported that 47% of the UK’s black population does not have a driver’s license, compared to just 26% of whites, highlighting how a constituency, which typically leans heavily to the political left, would be unduly disadvantaged. A pattern thus emerges for these measures disproportionately affecting constituencies most likely to vote Labor and, through the requirement of photo ID, effectively preventing those who cannot access or afford to make that purchase to have a say.

Depriving people of their rights on the basis of wealth and privilege is nothing new in British history. The Reform Act of 1832 limited suffrage to households or to those paying an annual rent of £ 10, while the Representation of the People Act of 1918, which was and is heralded as a milestone in the struggle for the rights of women, only extended the right to vote to women who met. certain property and wealth requirements. The introduction of a photo ID at polling stations could therefore end up quietly pushing back British democracy for decades or more.

Plans to introduce a mandatory photographic identity card in polling stations eventually and paradoxically link democracy and privilege. It is clear that the possibility of purchasing photo ID is inaccessible for a number of communities and that no purchase should be required to participate in the electoral process. The Conservatives clearly do not care about electoral fraud, but use this opportunity to restrict the right to vote and attack the fundamental principles of democracy. They must be opposed urgently and firmly, otherwise we risk going back and restricting our democracy.

OPPOSITION (Sharon Chau)

The identification of voters is nothing new. Opponents of the new bill to prevent electoral fraud paint an apocalyptic scenario and lament the death of democracy. But the reality is that requiring voter ID only aligns Britain with many Western liberal democracies, which have practiced this for a long time.

Many countries around the world require a voter card to verify identity before being allowed to vote. In Canada, one of the relatively liberal democracies, voters must prove their ID at the polling station. In France, Sweden, the Netherlands and many other countries, photo ID is required in addition to voter registration forms to allow people to vote. For a location closer to home, even voters in Northern Ireland have been required to show voter ID since 2003.

In contrast, the UK is among the minority of countries that do not implement this. For now, voters only need to give their name and address to be allowed to vote on polling day. The Conservative government argues that this allows electoral fraud and that this new voter identification legislation “will strengthen the integrity of the UK elections and protect our democracy from fraud and intimidation”. In addition to requiring ID on polling day, this bill also tackles three other issues: postal votes, undue influence and proxy voting, which allows close relatives to vote. on behalf of individuals. For mail-in votes, they banned party activists from completely managing mail-in votes, limited the number of mail-in votes a person can cast on behalf of others, and extended secrecy provisions. For proxy voting, the government has limited the total number of people for whom a person can act as a proxy to four.

Chloe Smith, Minister of Constitution and Devolution, says that “stealing someone’s vote is stealing their voice. We must go further to protect and modernize our precious democracy. Our strong package of measures will eliminate the space for such damage to reoccur in our elections and give the public confidence that their vote is theirs and theirs alone – however they choose to cast it. . The package of measures is designed to support exactly these objectives in a proportionate manner.

Critics argue it will deprive many people of their voting rights and prevent them from voting, especially for minorities and young people. However, the data shows the opposite. Government research showed that 99% of ethnic minorities had some form of identification that would be accepted under government proposals, as did 98% of people who identified as white. 99% of 18-29 year olds have the corresponding ID, as does 98% of those aged 70 and over. Some people might indeed be unable to vote after this bill, but this is probably a very small minority, and there are provisions in place that make it easier to verify eligible voters.

Ultimately, despite all of these concerns, requiring voters to present identification on polling day is nothing more than a “proportionate and reasonable response” to tackle voter fraud and election fraud. other electoral issues. This bill only brings the UK closer to most other liberal democracies in the world.

Image Credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

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