No to Voter ID
“I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg” are words I never expected to pen. However, when he said
We are not the sort of country where you are expected to show your papers to prove who you are. The basis of our historic freedoms is that if you go about your business lawfully you never have to prove to the authorities who you are... That is something that is very precious to us.
on Any Questions this week, I couldn’t agree more. The context was the shocking treatment of the Windrush Generation, but it reminded me of the recent trials of voter ID conducted by his own Government in the UK local elections.
Requiring voters to prove who they are is a fundamental shift in the balance of power between the people and the state and sets the tone of the engagement. The onus is currently on the state to prove I’m lying if I tell a police officer my name, but I would now have to prove who I am to the state to vote.
Since the state controls issuing of ID, it clearly could manipulate the supply to its advantage. This isn’t just hypothetical: Alabama stood accused of closing DMV offices in predominantly black counties. They since partially reversed that, but we don’t know why they closed them in the first place.
There are two further much-discussed reasons why we should fight voter ID. Firstly, as a letter sent by the Electoral Reform Society points out, studies have shown ID requirements disadvantage groups less likely to have ID for socio-economic and accessibility reasons.
Secondly, there’s no evidence of an actual problem. None of the five boroughs that trialled voter ID had a single reported instance of polling station impersonation in the last decade. Out of 44.6 million votes cast in 2017 there was one conviction.
Obviously there may be fraud going undetected, but if this is a problem big enough to justify disenfranchising segments of the electorate, then let’s see some evidence to say it’s worth doing.
In two boroughs, a trial was done requiring voters to take their polling card to the polling station. If the Government insists on being seen to be doing something to tackle this non-existent problem, this option is less bad. There will inevitably still be people turned away from polling stations, but it’s probably going to be less discriminatory against particular demographics.
There must be a referendum if they push forward with this. The people need to vote on changes that affect how their representatives are elected. Those elected representatives can’t be allowed to make changes to the balance of power between the state and the people without the people agreeing to them.
Picture credit (cropped): worldoflard
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