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Sheffield MPs unite against anti-democratic voter ID plans

Local politicians say the government's proposals amount to "voter suppression out of Donald Trump's playbook."

Polling Station Sign Canonbury London European Elections 2019

Cabinet Office research found that 2 million voters could lack the necessary ID to vote in general elections.

Russss on Wikimedia Commons.

Five out of Sheffield's six MPs have condemned government plans that will make it harder for people from minority communities to vote in elections.

The government say they want to introduce ID requirements at elections to tackle fraud – even though election fraud is a near non-existent problem in the UK.

Opposition MPs and pro-democracy campaigners say this will make it harder for people from minority communities to vote, as they're less likely to have the right ID.

“Millions of people lack photo ID in this country, including people in Sheffield – in particular the elderly, low income and Black, Asian and ethnic minority voters," said Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake.

"The Conservatives are reversing decades of democratic progress and urgently need to rethink this discriminatory and dangerous policy which will lock people out from having their say.”

The government announced legislation "to ensure the integrity of elections" in this year's Queen's Speech, even though the 2019 general election saw only one prosecution and one police caution for voter impersonation out of 32 million votes.

A study commissioned by the government's own Cabinet Office in May found that 2 million voters could lack the right ID to vote in elections.

Research by the Electoral Commission has found that people from disadvantaged groups are much less likely to already have the required ID, such as a passport or driving licence.

"The Tories present voter ID as a solution to a problem that doesn't exist," Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, told Now Then.

"This is simply straightforward voter suppression out of Donald Trump's Republican playbook. Labour is resisting it strongly."

Green Party politicians in Sheffield have also condemned the plans, with Baroness Natalie Bennett calling voter suppression "the latest US far-right tactic, coming to a polling booth near you in the UK."

Local Liberal Democrat councillor Joe Otten told Now Then: “Voter ID seems to be an attempt to import US style vote suppression strategies by making it harder for some people to vote. The crime of impersonation is extremely rare in the UK and we should be encouraging turnout not driving it down.”

1,159 would-be voters were turned away from polling stations during two trials of voter ID at English local elections in 2018 and 2019.

They included an 87-year-old woman who had voted in every election in her adult life, but who was turned away after bringing a photo of herself rather than photo ID.

“The government’s plans to introduce voter ID are discriminatory, and risk denying thousands of people in Sheffield their democratic right to vote," Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss told Now Then.

"A British election has never been undermined due to a mass fraud, so this would be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, and it would cost 20 times more to implement than we spend on electoral fraud.”

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts also emphasised the miniscule levels of fraud, telling Now Then that elections in the UK were "already safe and secure."

"Electoral fraud is not a widespread issue and in 2019, a year with a high turnout in the general election, the UK saw just four convictions across all the elections held. The government should be promoting confidence in our elections, not trying to fix a problem where there isn’t one.”

The government have said voters without a passport or driving licence will be able to get an ID card free-of-charge, but the Electoral Reform Society say this will force prospective voters to take time off work or caring responsibilities to request a card from council offices.

"Those that can most easily take time off from work or caring responsibilities to do this are usually the most likely to already have ID," they say on their website. "This expensive plan simply makes it harder for some people to vote."

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said the plans were "clearly designed to suppress turnout", and called on the government to widen the voting franchise rather than suppress it.

“If the Tories cared about improving democracy, they'd be extending the voting age to cover 16 and 17-year-olds, not fixing the system for themselves," she told Now Then.

“We need to do everything we can to encourage more people to participate in our democracy and not put up unnecessary barriers which make it harder to do so."

"This Bill will inevitably make it harder for the elderly, those on lower incomes and Black, Asian and ethnic minority voters to vote as they're much less likely to have ID such as driving licenses."

Now Then invited Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge Miriam Cates to comment on the plans, but received no response.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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