I am grateful for the chance to raise some concerns that I have about the UK Elections Bill and in particular the problems it poses for all black, Asian and ethnic minority people to exercise their right to vote.
While the UK Government has presented this as a bill to protect our democracy, it is worth taking a look at the Conservative Party’s record on this issue.
In 2014 the UK Government changed the rules on electoral registration from the previous household system to one of individual registration. By itself this might have been a reasonable change.
However, the decision of that government to then immediately redraw the boundaries of UK Parliamentary constituencies, without giving the people who had previously been registered by their household a chance to re-register, was a barely-disguised attempt to see that those groups – mainly BAME households, low-income voters and young people – were no longer represented by the electoral map.
Now we have this Elections Bill, which deepens the damage.
Its addition of voter ID to UK Parliament elections will surely further reduce the ability of those from BAME communities to vote.
The government’s own statistics tell us that only 53% of black people and 61% of Asian people hold a driving licence, compared to 76% of the white population.
It is also estimated that 3.5 million people across the UK have no photo ID at all.
While the government claims that a free voter card from local authorities will ease these concerns, such a scheme will cost local authorities millions of pounds that they can ill afford. In addition, we already know that some communities struggle to access local authority services, and are therefore likely to remain disenfranchised.
I have to ask: why is this necessary?
We know – the government knows – that electoral fraud is incredibly rare in this country.
According to the Electoral Commission in 2019 there were only 33 allegations of voting as other people, and only one conviction, compared to 32 million votes cast in the general election.
We should be thankful the figure is that small. Instead, the government is cracking down on a problem that barely exists, and in doing so risking the ability of millions to participate in the democratic process. Millions who should be able to exercise their right to vote.
I would like to be able to think that this is a misguided attempt to make our election process more secure.
But on looking at the record of the Conservatives in power I sadly have to conclude that it is a further attempt to silence the voices of the people who are already most excluded from our society, and who most need their voices to be heard.