After the passage of the Elections Act 2022, Jack Callaghan explains how the bill will damage democracy, and disproportionately impact young voters.
After the last 12 years of malicious Tory government, it is no surprise that they are staging an attack on our democracy. Following the passage of the Elections Act this past April, voters will now have to present ID when they go to vote, otherwise election officials will turn them away. This law, which will first apply to the 2023 local elections in May, is a seriously undemocratic attempt from the Conservative Party to suppress a significant amount of the electorate.
According to government-issued research, 2% of people have no form of photo ID, and 4% of people have no form of recognisable ID. This is extremely worrying for the local elections, as it potentially means that 2-4% of people will need to apply for free voter cards through their local authority. This will put an extreme amount of pressure on authorities, who are already suffering after 12 years of Tory underfunding and understaffing. In fact, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown who worked on early drafts of the Election Act, has said that even his own local authority “doesn’t have a plan yet for free ID”, pointing to a lack of resources and a lack of time given for them to prepare. Not only does this show the impact of Tory underfunding on our local authorities, it also poses a very real threat to the democracy of this country, because if councils don’t have the resources or the time to hand out free voter cards, then election officers will have to turn people away and stop them from voting, even if they have voted in every other election in their adult life. In addition, even though the Tories have pledged to provide the funding for another member of staff at each polling station, it is unclear how this will remedy 12 years of cuts to local government funding, particularly since the AEA (Association of Electoral Administrators) has already warned that people who have previously worked as electoral officials are “less keen” to do so now with the passage of this act. This is an obvious attempt at legalised voter suppression from the Conservative Party, who are trying to rig the game in their favour, and avoid an electoral wipeout at the next election.
This act also poses the real fear that young people will face an electoral lock out at the next election. Apart from driver’s licences and passports, the rest of the IDs detailed in this act are targeted at older people and voters, from an older person’s bus pass to an Oyster 60+ card. The government has meanwhile refused to accept railcards or student ID cards, which young people are more likely to use. This is a glaring attempt from the Conservative government to disenfranchise young people, who overwhelmingly vote for progressive parties including the Labour Party. In fact, only 19% of those aged 18-24 voted for the Conservative Party in the 2019 election, which shows that the Tories are simply not appealing to younger voters. The government even overturned an amendment from the House of Lords which would have allowed people to use a greater number of IDs, which shows that they are going out of their way to suppress the votes of young people, in a move which has many similarities to the voter ID laws seen in America. Although this will disproportionately affect young people as a whole, it will further impact poor and working class young people, who are less likely to own a driving licence or a passport. Recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that low-income voters are six times less likely to have photo ID, yet the Tories are pushing ahead with this undemocratic law. It is voter suppression at the highest level, and the Labour Party needs to fight it at every step along the way, including repealing it when we get into government.
To justify the introduction of the Elections Act, the Tories turned to the old reliable excuse of voter fraud. This is an excuse we have seen right-wing governments across the world use to try and get their own way, from Bolsonaro in Brazil to Trump in the USA. However, there is little evidence of electoral fraud in UK elections, and from 2015 until 2019, during which time we had three general elections, there were only 88 allegations of voter fraud made, out of a total of 153 million votes. Furthermore, between 2010 and 2018, only 2 people were found guilty of voter fraud in a court of law, which shows the Conservative Party’s shameless use of rhetoric to defend and justify this indefensible and unjustifiable law.
This act is also very worrying for the independence and integrity of the Electoral Commission. Since the Labour Party established the Electoral Commission in the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act of 2000, it has served as an independent organisation, used to ensure transparency in UK elections, give neutral and unbiased advice to anyone running an election, and arguably most importantly, oversee the funding of political parties. The most important feature of the Commission over these last 22 years was its non-partisan nature, and yet the Election Act will end this era of non-partisanship by placing the Electoral Commission under the supervision of a government minister, who will then have the ability and power to “guide” the commission. This puts the integrity and unbiased nature of the Commission into question, with the Electoral Commission itself releasing a statement, urging the government to rethink these changes. However, the Tories have ignored the concerns of the Commission, showing their utter scorn towards integrity in government.
It is obvious that the Elections Act is just another example of the Tories taking liberties with our democracy. After the chaos of the last 12 years, they see their influence on the public of the UK wearing off, and in order to stay in power, they are engaging in gerrymandering and legalised voter suppression to potentially stop millions of people (particularly poor and young people) from voting. The Labour Party, as a party proud of our loyalty to democracy, need to fight this law at every turn, ensuring that we return the power to the people and repeal this undemocratic law once we get into government. It is also important that we work together as activists, councillors, members, and MPs to ensure that people are aware of this change to the law, and that they are able to apply for a free voter ID if they need one, to uphold fair and open democracy in our own areas.
Jack Callaghan is an A-Level student from Hartlepool. They are interested in education, the environment, and socialist, working class politics.