This week I decided to stand up for our democracy and launch the first stage of a legal challenge against the Government’s dangerous Voter ID plans.
This case is particularly significant for myself but also for my community because next May, for the first time ever, we will be asked to show identification in order to cast our vote at the local Government election. Braintree District Council, my local authority, is one of eleven boroughs across England taking part in the Government’s pilot schemes, before they attempt to roll out Voter ID at the next General Election.
The Windrush scandal devastated the lives of individuals and their families. However, it also demonstrated that many British citizens do not have official documentation. I myself do not have any form of photo ID, nor do any of my immediate family members and I know many people who are also in that position. In fact, 3.5 million electors (7.5% of the electorate) do not have any photo ID.
I feel that these measures will unfairly discriminate against not only myself, but also others in a similar position across the country, who are unable to provide with the same ease, identification, that ministers and civil servants take for granted, and naively think we all possess.
This legal challenge is vital for our democracy. The Government are forcing these pilots through parliament using secondary legislation, and MPs will not have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s plans.
However, according to my legal team, the Cabinet Office is acting unlawfully because they do not have the power under the Representation of the People Act 2000 to introduce pilots like these which restrict voting rights.
This case seeks to ensure that any change to the voting and testing of Voter ID requirements are lawful and subject to proper Parliamentary scrutiny and debate. Leigh Day solicitors have sent a formal letter of claim on my behalf and unless the Government back down will be issuing proceedings shortly.
The Government claim that Voter ID is the solution they need to tackle the specific issue of voter impersonation in polling stations (when someone is pretending to be somebody else in order to cast one fake vote). However, this kind of fraud is an incredibly rare event, in fact, I personally cannot remember a single incident in my Council district in the forty years I have lived here.
For the Government to identify this issue as the most pressing problem facing the democratic process in this country, is beyond absurd set against the growing democratic deficit facing our communities, in terms of falling voter turnout and participation in elections.
There are many reasons of course for falling turnouts, but for the Government to introduce measures that will further restrict that turnout, is a dangerous and insidious development. These measures will disproportionately hit poorer communities, where turnouts at elections are particularly low already, and access to ID is especially restricted due to low incomes.
Low turnout in poorer communities have ramifications. The issues that affect these communities, such as insecure low paid jobs, rising child poverty, benefit freezes and the roll out of universal credit, and the consequences that result because of them, are all too easy for the Government to ignore, when they do not need to fear to any great degree electoral consequences.
The UN in a recent report, condemned the UK Government for what it said was a “mean-spirited and callous approach” to the poorest in our society. These communities are becoming increasingly economically and democratically, disenfranchised. This will lead in time to fractured communities and the lack of social cohesion in our society. This is something, I believe, we all need to fear.
The real challenge facing our democracy is not voter fraud, but voter turnout. Instead of making it harder for people to vote, the Government should be focusing on ways to increase democratic engagement, for example, by persuading people that their vote does count, that it does matter.
After all, would the Government have shown the same contempt for these people, if voter turnout at elections was 50% or more in these communities? An added bonus of raising the turnout is that the opportunity for voter impersonation – what the Government claims to fear - would be considerably reduced with the higher turnouts, a win-win I think.
To cover my legal fees, I have set up a crowdfunding page at crowdjustice.com. I need your help to pay the court costs, the costs if we lose (nothing is certain) and at least some of our lawyers’ costs, who have all agreed to work at heavily discounted rates.
I am not wealthy and call on all those concerned about the future of our democracy to help me take on this battle against the Government. Please contribute whatever you can and share this page.