Race equality groups condemn vote to introduce voter ID as ‘voter suppression’

327 MPs voted in favour of introducing photo ID at elections, including 85 Tories who voted against the need for Covid passes to gain entry into nightclubs and big events.

Voting Ballot Box

A number of race equality think-tanks and groups have condemned yesterday’s Commons vote to introduce mandatory photo ID at elections as amounting to nothing more than ‘voter suppression’.

327 MPs voted in favour of introducing photo ID at elections, including 85 Tories who voted against the need for Covid passes to gain entry into nightclubs and big events. Tim Loughton said at the time: “We do not want a society where we ask for papers and deprive people of their liberty.” Yet those same MPs had no problem supporting a ‘papers please society’ when it came to voting rights.

Voters will need to show an approved form of photographic identification before they can vote in a polling station, according to measures contained in the Elections Bill.

The government claims that the changes are being made to ensure the integrity of electoral processes and to combat voter fraud, yet there were only six known cases of voter fraud at the last election, a fact admitted to in May last year by former health secretary Matt Hancock. The types of ID accepted include passports, driving licences and blue badge cards, yet according to a UK-wide study commissioned by the Cabinet Office, more than 2 million people lack the necessary ID to take part in UK elections. 

Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights also highlighted the dangers the Elections Bill poses to the ability of millions of people to vote, warning that the government must do more to “demonstrate the need for voter ID and mitigate the potential barriers to voting its proposals may create”.

A number of race-equality groups have condemned the vote in favour of photo ID.

A spokesperson for the Institute of Race Relations told LFF: “The elections bill is a flagrant attack on the voting rights of vulnerable and marginalised communities. By requiring voters to have photo-ID, the government is introducing an unnecessary and disproportionate solution to a non-existent problem.

“Voting fraud is as rare as hen’s teeth in this country and campaigners have rightly pointed out that the bill’s true purpose is to suppress voting among poor, black and disaffected voters, as commonly happens in the US.”

The Runnymede Trust had also called the plans a ‘voter suppression’ move that will ‘disenfranchise millions of voters’.

The trust wrote on Twitter: “This voter suppression will disproportionately disenfranchise ethnic minority, working class, LGBT+, younger and elderly voters.

“It is an attempt to solve an electoral fraud problem which Britain doesn’t have. Deeply depressing that it passed yesterday.”

Ashok Viswanathan a Co-Founder and Deputy CEO of Operation Black Vote said the bill was a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’. Ashok told LFF: “It is with great concern that we note that the Bill potentially and perversely disenfranchises hundreds of thousands including Black, young and economically poor voters whilst attempting to address a minor whilst important issue regarding a handful of fraudulent ballot papers.

“This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This clause is disproportionate, and makes infinitely more challenging the already uphill struggle to register people to vote in democratic elections.”

The cabinet office has been contacted for comment.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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