By Nathan Hine

January 6 2021 was one of the darkest days in modern US history with right-wing violent extremists storming the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the democratic will of the people borne out of the then President Donald Trump continuing to undermine the 2020 election result. The Republican Party’s response has been to introduce voter suppression bills in 47 states and now those same far-right extremist tactics are being adopted by this Conservative Government here in the UK. 

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Democracy is one of the most fundamental principles that separates modern Britain from Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or even some of the modern dictatorships that are springing up around the globe. Or so we thought as the new Voter ID included in the Queen’s Speech will seriously impact on the ability of some groups to participate in our democratic process. 

The new law will mean that people will have to show a passport, photo driving licence or will have to apply for a voter ID card from the county council at their expense. The proposed voter ID card is set to cost between £35-45, with a passport currently costing £80 and a photo driving licence setting you back £60-£80. The reforms will also include a limit on the number of postal votes that can be handed in on behalf of other people which could mean that some people’s ballots are never counted. 

In defence of the new bill, the government has cited voter fraud in the same way as Donald Trump cried fraud before, during and after the 2020 US Presidential Election.   In the 2019 General Election, the Electoral Commission identified 15 alleged cases of voter fraud, and of these 12 resulted in either no further action or were resolved by the police. Only three resulted in a caution by the authorities. 

So the question is why, why are the freedom-loving Conservative Government ploughing ahead with plans to bring in new legislation to require people to show identification to vote and to introduce a crackdown on postal ballots? As with Republican-controlled state legislatures in the United States, it is clear that Conservatives are using voter fraud as an excuse to rig the system in their favour by putting up unnecessary barriers in order to dissuade non-Tory voters from turning out.  

This could cause a huge amount of harm to not only voters themselves but to the dedicated poll workers up and down this country with questioning someone’s identity likely to result in a verbal and possibly even a physical confrontation.  At this month’s local council, mayoral, and Scottish and Welsh elections, everyone was required to wear a mask due to the pandemic. Imagine having to police Voter ID checks in that situation. 

But even in a post-mask age, individuals may decide to wear a hat, scarf, or items of religious headgear which may disguise their face. If poll workers have to check everyone’s ID card, it could take hours to vote instead of a matter of minutes which will inevitably see voter turnout plummet.   Truth be told, this will affect poor and young people the most as they will not be able to afford the appropriate identification, and in the case of young people, some will forget to take the identification with them if they decide to vote on their way to or from somewhere.  

US civil rights groups have already warned Britons that such measures could be used to disenfranchise voters who do not have the right paperwork with similar techniques having  been used and abused for decades in America. This comes after the information commissioner Elizabeth Denham confirmed to MPs earlier this year that the Conservative Party illegally collected ethnicity data during the 2019 General Election. 

It will be seen by some as another attempt to try and stop black voters who disproportionately vote Labour from going to the polls with Ipsos Mori identifying that 64% of BAME voters went Labour in the 2019 General Election compared to 20% who voted Conservative, causing concern that this is politically-motivated.

The final group who will be disproportionately affected by these changes will be the LGBTQ+ community as most people who have transitioned do not have a birth certificate that accurately reflects their gender identity. This means that many of the LGBTQ+ community will have to pay to get a new birth certificate and either a council-issued voter card, passport or driving licence just to vote which should be a right not a privilege.    

As if this point did not need stressing any more, it is clear where the Conservatives have taken their inspiration from as former President Donald Trump issued a statement from Mar a Largo in favour of the bill saying: “The Government of the United Kingdom is proposing that anyone who wants to vote in a British election should show photo ID to eliminate any corruption and fraud and ‘ensure the integrity of elections.’ 

‘This is exactly what we should do in the United States, unlike the Democrats who want to abolish Voter ID laws by  passing their horrible HR 1 Bill.  All States should pass Voter ID laws along with many other fair and comprehensive election reforms, like eliminating mass mail-in voting and ballot harvesting, so we never again have an election rigged and stolen from us. The people are demanding real reform!’’ 

But just like this Voter ID bill, Republican-controlled states in the US have introduced measures from reducing the number of postal ballots that can be requested, preventing polling stations from providing sustenance – and you guessed it – requiring voter identification in order to vote. The worst state is Georgia. Previously a solid Republican state for decades, the anti-Trump movement galvanized in the 2020 election cycle firstly by going from red to blue as Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win Georgia on the Presidential level since Bill Clinton’s electoral victory in 1992. 

Then in January 2021, the Georgia Senate elections saw the Democrats claim another big win with Black pastor Raphael Warnock usurpingRepublican incumbent Kelly Loeffler and Jon Ossoff ousting long-standing Republican senator David Perdue.   Democratic victories came primarily from the Black vote in the Atlanta suburbs in Fulton County and the surrounding areas which helped them to push the Republicans out of power. 

However, with Republicans still holding the state legislature, the response was quick, decisive and inevitable. The Republican-controlled Georgia state legislature passed the most aggressive voter suppression bill in America.  Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill into law which reduces the number of ballot drop-off boxes, reduces the period of early voting, introduces the need for photo identification, restricts postal ballots to the over 60s and even allows county election officials to intervene if they do not like the outcome they are seeing. In sum, they have done everything possible apart from banning certain voters from turning up in order to ensure a Democrat never wins again. 

So while here in the UK, the Conservatives are lapping up the success of the vaccine rollout and any chance of a Labour win in 2024 looks far-fetched, the intention is to apply voter suppression tactics to keep power at all costs. For many, this crosses a line that will see Britain’s place as a thriving parliamentary democracy diminished. So how do we stop it? 

First, we need to make sure that whatever obstacles are put up, we turn out and vote like crazy for the left-leaning candidate who has the most chance to win in our area. Second, we must mobilize, campaign and protest to make our voices heard that we will not stand for this undemocratic behaviour by a party of any colour to protect our democracy from this government. 

Just like America under Donald Trump, it is clear that Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will stop at nothing to save face and stay in power. We must act to stop them before it is too late…

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Last Update: May 22, 2021