Pages tagged with "Election Bill"

The UK Gov's Crime Against Democracy - suppressing Scottish votes

As the candidates for the next Prime Minister continue to voice more and more extreme right-wing priorities thats are out of step with the vast majority of Scottish voters, speculation rises that there could be a general election within the next few months. But if that were to happen, almost one in ten voters could be stopped from casting their ballots.

The UK Government’s own research suggests 9% voters don’t have suitable id - that is much higher than was previously thought. Previous estimates were about 2.5%.  Low-income and marginal groups are more likely to be affected. 

This situation could significantly damage the cause of Scottish independence by unfairly suppressing the vote from areas and groups of people who are more likely to support independence. It could also hand a massive electoral advantage to the Conservatives. 

The UK Government forced through the Electoral Act requiring people to present photo id at the polling booth, ignoring the fact the Scottish Parliament did not consent to it and that many experts said it could damage democracy in the UK.

Government phone survey finds 9% without acceptable photo ID

The Cabinet Office commissioned a survey earlier this year that found only 85% of people in the UK have multiple forms of ID. While 91% of respondents said they have a passport, the surveying company pointed out that a phone survey struggles to reach underrepresented groups such as the homeless and even this could be an underestimate. 

Voter ID card legislation three months late

Most countries where photo id is demanded at the voting booth also issue free ID cards. The UK does not. The Act said that voting cards would be created and made freely available - but the legislation to create them has been delayed. It is three months behind schedule.

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up said : ‘It is the government’s expectation that all the measures in the Elections Act will be implemented during the lifetime of this parliament. The Voter Card system will be in operation in good time ahead of voter identification being required at polls.” He cited earlier research from the survey above, which he claimed showed only 2% of voters without ID. 

The Electoral Commission is toothless

The Electoral Commission has written to the new Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Greg Clarke, requesting an urgent meeting. It pointed out that the delay in creating voter ID cards was a cause for concern. But there is nothing the Electoral Commission can do to ensure that the UK’s elections are free and fair. 

A spokesperson said: “The Electoral Commission is responsible for enforcing the law, but not for making it”.  A report said the Act risks damaging trust in the UK’s electoral system, instead of protecting it. 

The Electoral Commission no longer has the power to enforce election law

The Elections Bill also removed the power to prosecute people who break electoral law from the Commission. In future, it will be up to the various police services to decide if a breach of electoral law should be prosecuted. The law also does not allow EU citizens who settled in the UK before Brexit to have a vote in general elections. 

The Scottish Parliament is powerless to create voter ID cards

Arrangements for general elections come under the rule of Westminster and so these rules will apply to Scottish voters when they vote on MPs. 

The Scottish Government could issue its own cards - but they won’t be recognised at polling stations unless the law says they should be and that power rests with the UK Government, as far as general elections go. 

Research shows onerous registration puts voters off

Even if the UK Government does pass the required legislation to create voter ID cards, if people have to go through a bureaucratic process with their local authority, research shows it will put them off voting and reduce turn out. 

Over 60s bus passes acceptable - but not matriculation cards

The new law has been criticised for other kinds of unfairness - it accepts over 60s bus passes - but not student id cards or young person railcards or bus passes. Over 60s are significantly more likely to vote against independence and for right wing candidates.

The Wikipedia entry on the Act reads: "The act was criticised for permitting as acceptable voter identification "an Older Person’s Bus Pass, an Oyster 60+ Card, a Freedom Pass", while not allowing 18+ student Oyster cards, national railcards, or student ID cards. An amendment in the House of Lords to list these as accepted forms of voter identification was rejected by the Conservative government.” Legislation to create free voter id cards has been delayed.

There was no significant electoral fraud in the UK

What were the motives for passing this law? Protecting democracy against fraud was given as a reason - but that does not stand up to scrutiny. There is little evidence of serious voter fraud in UK elections. Between 2015 to 2019, during which three general elections were held and 153 million in-person votes cast, only 88 allegations were made of voter fraud. Between 2010 and 2018, there were just two convictions for voter fraud.

A few percentage points can swing a seat

Just a couple of percentage points can make a difference  - for example in Moray and in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine the majority for the Conservatives in the 2019 election was under 1,000 votes and in Dumfries and Galloway, Alister Jack's majority was less than 2,000. According to recent polling by Electoral Calculus, all the Conservative MPs Scottish seats are at risk, with the potential for them all to be lost.

In addition, it is likely that the next general election will be fought in Scotland on the single issue of independence. Disenfranchising large swathes of voters could make a significant difference in vote share.

Conclusion - a crime against democracy

It seems clear that the the new Elections Act risks disenfranchising many, many people. If voter ID cards are not made available  soon, that number will be even higher.  There is a question mark over the reasons for forcing through the elections act. There is no evidence of significant fraud. The Electoral Commission has also been weakened and has no power to enforce rules or to ensure elections are free and fair. Being careless with the votes of the electorate - or deliberately suppressing them is a crime against democracy. 

UK Government photo ID plan will disenfranchise 100,000 Scots - and may reduce turnout for Indyref 2

The House of Lords is currently considering the Elections Bill which would disenfranchise about 2.5% of the electorate by requiring everyone to bring a passport, driving licence or similar photo ID to the polling station. 

This week, the Electoral Commission wrote a strongly-worded public letter to the Government warning that the BIll’s plans for direct Government oversight of political spending and election rules would undermine trust in the electoral system.

The potential effect of introducing voter ID is that more than a million voters across the UK could be turned away from the polling stations at the next general election. The Scottish Government can make sure these rules don’t apply at council and Holyrood elections - but Westminster sets the rules for its contests, and so as many as 100,000 Scottish voters would likely to be disenfranchised. (With the uncertainty over the future of PM Boris Johnson, there is a possibility of another UK General Election before indyref2.) 

People who face the humiliation of being turned away once may be reluctant to try again. They may not realise there are different rules for different contests in Scotland. They make become less likely to vote, and they may even drop off the electoral roll. That could affect turnout in the Referendums (Scotland) Bill soon to be passed by the Scottish Parliament. 

Voter ID targets disadvantaged groups - official photo ID costs money

Research shows it is more likely to be disadvantaged groups who are affected - the young, the disadvantaged, those who can’t afford photo ID. A passport costs a minimum of £75 and a provisional driving licence £35 - sums of money that people feeling the squeeze through benefit cuts, inflation and energy costs won’t be able to find. And these groups are of course less likely to vote Conservative. 

Just a couple of percentage points can make a difference  - for example in Moray and in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine the majority for the Conservatives in the 2019 election was under 1,000 votes and in Dumfries and Galloway, Alister Jack's majority was less than 2,000. According to recent polling by Electoral Calculus, all the Conservative MPs seats are at risk, with the potential for them all to be lost if the current polling was replicated across the country at a general election. 

A robust, address-based system - no evidence of significant fraud

The UK has a robust, address-based system, where experienced teams tick off names against addresses in a small area around each polling centre. Electoral officers are alert for unusual activity - many names against a small flat for example - and there is very little evidence of voter fraud. That's why many commentators believe the real motivation for the bill is to suppress turnout. 

A House of Commons committee has expressed strong concerns about the Elections Bill. It said that the Bill risks damaging trust in the UK’s electoral system, instead of protecting it. There was not enough public consultation or scrutiny of the proposals before bringing in the legislation

The report said: “When the requirement to produce photographic identification at polling stations was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003, the turnout at the 2004 Northern Ireland Assembly elections dropped by 2.3% as a direct consequence. The introduction of the voter ID requirement will remove an element of the trust inherent in the current system between state and individual, and make it more difficult to vote. We are concerned that the evidence to support the voter ID requirement simply is not good enough. It is likely that it will reduce turnout for future elections.” 

The Electoral Commission's  Letter 

In a strong letter this week, representatives of the Electoral Commission across the four UK nations expressed deep concern about the Elections Bill, saying that its provisions go against the principles of democracy are not found in any other comparable democratic country. 

The Bill also gives the UK Government a direct role in overseeing the work of the Commission, setting political funding rules and regulating their opponents.

The letter said: “It is our firm and shared view that the introduction of a Strategy and Policy Statement – enabling the Government to guide the work of the Commission – is inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy. This independence is fundamental to maintaining confidence and legitimacy in our electoral system.

“If made law, these provisions will enable a government in the future to influence the Commission’s operational functions and decision-making. This includes its oversight and enforcement of the political finance regime, but also the advice and guidance it provides to electoral administrators, parties and campaigners, and its work on voter registration...

“The Statement has no precedent in the accountability arrangements of electoral commissions in other comparable democracies, such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Indeed, the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters of the Venice Commission, of which the UK is a member, states that ‘Only transparency, impartiality and independence from political motivated manipulation will ensure proper administration of the election process “.

Independence is the only way to protect Scotland's democracy

The Elections BIll is another example of the UK Government diverging from the principles and standards that democratic countries abide by.

We have seen the Conservative Government pack the House of Lords with donors and cronies. It is threatening the independence of the judiciary, placing its own supporters on the boards of public institutions and attacking the rights of immigrants and the right to protest.

Now it is attempting to interfere with the electoral process. There is almost no evidence of electoral fraud. Imposing voter ID rules is a clear attempt to suppress the votes of certain classes of people who are unlikely to vote Conservative. 

The Scottish Government is powerless to refuse to stop voter ID being imposed in general elections. It may be able to mitigate this by giving people free access to an acceptable form of voter ID. But in the longer term, independence is the only way to protect democracy in Scotland.