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Sunday 6 May 2018

Papers, Please

Back in May last year, the Conservative manifesto included plans to introduce restrictions at the polling station so that ID needed to be provided if one didn't bring their polling card.

This came into force in several areas in the country in the local elections held last Thursday the 3rd. A result that saw Labour make significant gains while still being shouted down as losing - something I am having trouble quantifying, but never mind, that's what spin is all about - came with a sideline: at least four thousand people who legally could otherwise vote were turned away from the booth because they didn't have their polling card, a passport, a driver's license, or a variety of less common bits of ID.

This is, apparently, a means to prevent people from voting twice. Which is somewhat unlikely. The only people I have heard of that vote twice in any significant number are second home owners in local elections, and that is perfectly legal, if not just as undemocratic.

What it actually does, is prevent a significant proportion of voters from voting. In some constituencies, that is literally enough to swing a seat. Here, last time there were local elections, one seat was won by a single vote - that's for the folks who say "my vote won't make a difference".

There's ways around it, of course. Bring your polling card, right? Make sure you have a valid passport or driver's license, right?

Well - here's a thing.

I don't have a passport. I mean, I do, but it is out of date. I need to renew it. Meaning it isn't a valid form of documentation, unless I front up £76, run the gauntlet of the renewal, and wait for six weeks. I don't have a driver's license, either - no, not even a provisional. For that, £34 and a three week wait. That is even if a provisional license is acceptable - it comes down to the individual councils involved.

Not much to pay, right? Except we forget: this is modern-day England, where food banks are in constant use, and children are being denied school meals that they need and are thus courting malnutrition. If you're on benefits or not earning very much, society shames you for being so gauche and unthinking as to buy tiny luxuries for yourself, let alone a driver's license for a car you can't afford or a passport for travel you can't afford to take.

So if for whatever reason you don't get your polling card - and I can think of numerous reasons for this that are all fairly reasonable and even likely - and you are guilty of the crime of being poor, then there's a greater-than-zero chance that you just can't vote.

Access to the democratic process is necessary for a democracy to be representative. The selective prevention of individuals from voting is a calculated move to increase a party's share of the vote, nothing more, nothing less.

I say "a party", because there is classically a demographic trend: those who earn more are more likely to vote Conservative - here's a piece from the LSE about it.

So in terms of local politics - you get to vote twice, in two different constituencies, if you own two homes and are thus more likely to vote Conservative. You may not get to vote at all if you are poor or disenfranchised, and are thus less likely.

I find it very, very difficult to believe that such a series of conclusions wasn't reached by those responsible for the voter ID scheme. They can claim it will help prevent voter fraud - of which there were a whole 28 cases in the 2017 General Election. 28. For that, we prevented 4,000 people voting - and that was in just five cities - Bromley, Watford, Swindon, Gosport and Woking.

To give you an idea - the population of those five constituencies in total is 529,625. Meaning that one in every 132 people was turned away specifically for the lack of ID. You apply that to the entire country and it works out to 492,360. Nearly half a million voters, legitimate voters, prevented from voting for no good reason.

But sure, we definitely don't need electoral reform.


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