29/12/2016 11:04 GMT | Updated 30/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Voter ID - The Smokescreen Of The Pickles Report

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The Pickles report entitled Securing the Vote has very little to do with electoral fraud, and everything to do with vote suppression - the disenfranchisement of minorities and the poor. It also has hidden within it another insidious motive - local 'voluntary' registers of resident foreign nationals.

The report was sneaked out right in the middle of the Xmas holidays, when parliament is not in session, obviously as the government hoped it might not get the scrutiny it warrants. The report is quite short and is based on Pickles' involvement in the Tower Hamlets case, after the mayor was accused of electoral fraud (though no evidence of criminality was found). There are measures in the report that are based specifically on the allegations from that case; for example, electors being influenced to vote a certain way by religious leaders, something that the report recommends there should be legislation to stop (but how that would apply to bishops equally as it would to imams or other community leaders isn't discussed).

It talks about 'certain communities' being possibly more prone to fraud, especially when it comes to proxy and postal voting, and it briefly says how these can be tightened up but without much in the way of concrete proposals for legislation. Perhaps we should consider at this point that the Conservative Party gets a lot of votes from the elderly who use these methods - and in the last election, 17% of the votes were cast this way (and only 0.33% were rejected).

What the report does talk about however is voter ID. It suggests a number of sponsored trials requiring different kinds of ID to see which is the most effective and also to look into the effects on turnout, etc. But there really is no need for any such trial. There have been a number of studies done in the US that demonstrate how voter ID suppresses the vote of minorities and the poor - not just because they are more unlikely to have or be able to afford the kind of ID required, they are also less likely to know what is required until it is too late to acquire it.

The following quote from the Pickles report is used to justify voter ID despite there being no evidence that widespread fraud takes place:

"25. Despite the low numbers of allegations and rare cases of personation being prosecuted, there is a concern that the absence of evidence does not mean this practice is not taking place. And even if it is not, there is a precautionary principle that comes into play in terms of the potential for it to happen."

This is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantiam - the inference that a proposition is true because it has not been proven to be false. It can be used to justify anything, as it based not on evidence, but the actual lack of any.

The other real motive behind this report, I believe, is more sinister. Even when ID is provided and has been verified, the report goes on to talk about measures that should be taken to identify foreign nationals who are not entitled to vote.

This has to be seen in the context of other government policies aimed at minority communities, migrants, foreign students and EU residents after the latest immigration figures were published and since the Brexit result.

  • Just weeks ago there was the Casey Report, criticising councils for multi-cultural efforts and placing the blame for lack of integration solely on the minority communities themselves - without acknowledging the discrimination and rejection they are subjected to - and emphasising 'British Values'.
  • In the past few days there was government-sponsored defence of the widely-condemned Prevent policy, which targets even children in daycare as being potentially 'radicalised'.
  • And in the next week, schools will be expected to collect data on their pupils' 'country of origin' and languages spoken, in what has been revealed to be nothing less than a tactic to identify, and intimidate, the children of illegal immigrants - with the obvious consequences it will have on all minority children.

Pickles suggests that all languages other than English and Welsh be banned from polling stations - not only on election literature and official advice issued by local councils, but also the language spoken by people whilst they are inside the polling station. It also suggests that councils set up local registers of foreign residents not entitled to vote. What possible purpose would this serve? Would polling station staff be expected to check that the ID is real, then make sure that the person appears on the electoral roll and not on the 'foreigner' register?

The Pickles report is a largely a smokescreen - to cover the implementation of other Tory anti-immigration policies with very tenuous links to voter fraud. The fact that voter fraud and personation is extremely rare - so rare as not to be statistically significant - is really not the issue. An electoral roll that identifies those people not entitled to vote is clearly nonsense -but does make sense when the government was suggesting such a registry of foreign nationals post-Brexit until it was widely condemned, and the project was suggested to be extremely costly and unpractical - but this way they could achieve the same ends without central funding, whilst at the same time disenfranchising and further isolating minority communities.