Tories prepare voter suppression

Submitted by AWL on 11 May, 2021 - 6:20 Author: Mohan Sen
Voting rights protest in US

Embolded by their success on 6 May, the Tories are proposing new measures to (further) restrict election democracy in the UK.

One — a proposal to change executive mayoral elections from a “supplementary vote” system to “first past the post” — is designed to make it harder for opposition parties to win mayoral elections, at a time when the left-and-centre vote is more split than a right-wing vote consolidated around the Tories.

Already this time around, the change would have prevented Labour from winning the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor, handing the position to the Tories on the basis of 40% of the vote.

The left should oppose the existence of executive mayors, and advocate wider democratic bodies which elect collective leaderships (including committee-based, not cabinet, systems in local authorities). We should also support proportional representation. This is a move in the wrong direction.

More serious is the proposal to make voter ID compulsory to vote in future general elections. Supposedly intended to address election fraud, this is a move straight out of the Trump-Republican playbook.

The change will not tackle major electoral fraud, since such a problem does not exist. The Electoral Commission says the UK “has low levels of proven electoral fraud”. In 2019 there was just one conviction and one caution for impersonating another voter. In the 2018 local elections there were only eight such allegations, with no action taken over seven of them.

What the voter ID requirement will do is lower the number of people voting. In 2019, trials of such a system in a few areas led to over 700 people being turned away and not returning. The introduction of a requirement for ID in Northern Ireland for the 2005 election saw turnout fall 6.5%, against a 2% increase UK-wide.

There is substantial evidence that the change will most hit younger, poorer and ethnic minority voters, who already generally vote in lower numbers.

This follows changes to electoral registration over the last decade which have seen many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, disappear from voter rolls, in a sequel to the first big disappearance from rolls in the days of the Tories’ poll tax.

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