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Voting in Tower Hamlets

Tories in new attack on poor and BAME voters

The Tories are still obsessed with the myth that electoral fraud is rife in areas with a high number of black and Asian voters. As Tower Hamlets has shown time and again, the number of stories about possible or pretend electoral fraud is massively higher than the number of possible crimes being investigated, and higher still than the number of convictions. Nonetheless, the Government is to trial new measures to prevent the thing that isn’t happening.

The proposal is that voters will have to take a form of ID with them when they go to vote. There will be trials at the 2018 elections, with various Councils trialling different kinds of documentation, such as passports, driving licences and utility bills. The list of Councils carrying out the trial has not yet been announced, but it will include Birmingham, Bradford, Luton, Slough, Woking, Coventry and Bristol.

The proposal discriminates against poorer voters because poor people are less likely to have passports or driving licences than wealthier voters. Poor people such as young people renting homes in the private sector are less likely to have utility bills. Obtaining these documents in order to keep their vote may not be possible for those on low pay or benefit claimants.

The trials are being introduced by Tory Constitution Minister Chris Skidmore, who is basing them on measures initially put forward by former Local Government Minister Eric Pickles. Pickles claimed specifically that Pakistani and Bangladeshi voters did not understand that UK voting system and the kinship traditions of those communities made it more likely that individuals would pass their votes to others. Speaking about his version of the proposals (and defying logic), Skidmore claimed that by protecting the integrity of the voting system, he will be encouraging poor and ethnic minority residents to take part in elections.

The measures have been condemned by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has described them as a political move, but they have been welcomed by Cat Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for voter engagement and youth affairs. Livingstone said, “The real problem is the people most likely not to have a passport or driving licence are going to be the poorest and that I suspect will basically hit the Labour Party.”

The move has also been condemned by the Electoral Reform Society, a body which is widely trusted to run elections of all sorts on an impartial basis and which campaigns for sensible improvements in voting systems. The Society said that requiring voters to produce ID was a blunt instrument which could put people off voting. Their Chief Executive, Katie Ghose, said that all aspects of election fraud should be taken seriously, but insisting on ID was like using “a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

The proposal has a double benefit for the Tories. First, the measure will reduce the Labour vote (as poor people are more likely to vote Labour). Second, the Tories can reassure the rabid right who vote Tory most of the time but can be tempted by UKIP that the Tories are tough on ethnic minorities who do not understand the British way of life.

This does seem to be a rare case of the USA being more liberal than the UK. The US state of North Carolina introduced mandatory voter ID in 2013. The state law which required voters to produce photo ID when they voted was overturned this summer, when the US appeal court ruled that the measure was intentionally discriminatory against black voters. The ruling came days after a similar ruling against a voted ID law in Texas. Research suggests that new voter ID laws in Wisconsin may have stopped around 300,000 electors in that state alone from casting a vote in the 2016 presidential election, while the number of detected cases of impersonation across the whole USA in the average presidential election is in single figures.


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