Equality groups sound the alarm on ‘US-style voter suppression’ potentially coming to the UK

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 23rd June 2020

Equality organisations are warning that government plans to force all voters to show ID at the ballot box risk locking black and ethnic minority people out of democracy.

In an intervention timed to coincide with Windrush Day this Monday, the Runnymede Trust, Hope Not Hate, the Race Equality Foundation, Electoral Reform Society, and Southall Black Sisters say government policy amounted to the “importing of US-style voter suppression to the UK”.

Only 52% of black people hold a full driving licence – a key form of photo ID – compared to 76% of white people. ‘Mixed’ and ‘Other’ (non-white) ethnic groups also have lower rates of passport possession.

The statement from BME groups and the ERS, published in the Independent, comes after Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith confirmed the government intends to push ahead with the plans. The government intends to bring in mandatory ID in time for the next General Election.

There was just one proven case of ‘personation’ fraud in the whole of the UK in 2019 – while 1,000 people have been denied a vote (those who were turned away and did not return) at the voter ID pilots that have taken place in the run up to the national roll-out.

There is a long history of strict voter ID laws being used in the US as a partisan ‘gerrymandering’ tool.

Democracy campaigners in the UK warn that thousands would be unfairly deprived a vote each election if mandatory ID was introduced, and many more put off through an extra barrier being put up to voting.

Statement: We must not bring US-style voter suppression to the UK

We are writing to sound the alarm at government plans that will make it harder for people to vote.

The government is intent on pushing ahead with a voter ID which will have a disproportionate impact on BME people.

We are deeply concerned that – since there is no universal ID in the UK – this show-your-papers plan represents an importing of US-style voter suppression to the UK.

The government’s own data shows that white people are most likely to hold one form of photo ID – 76% hold a full driving licence. But 38% of Asian people, nearly a third of people of mixed ethnicity (31%), and more than half of Black people (48%) do not. 

While ministers have promised a free identification card from local councils on advanced request, this represents another barrier to voting that will put many off – with a postcode lottery in terms of how easy the cards are to acquire in each of the 300+ councils of the UK.

The Windrush scandal showed what can happen when millions of people who lack ID are shut out by government. We must not risk a rolling Windrush scandal here, with BME and marginalised groups locked out of our democracy. Ministers must think again.

Dr Zubaida Haque, Interim Director, The Runnymede Trust
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society
Pragna Patel – Director, Southall Black Sisters
Jabeer Butt OBE, CEO, Race Equality Foundation
HOPE Not Hate

See here for more info about the government’s voter ID plans.

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