East Anglia University politics professor Toby James on why more than a million voters are being disenfranchised under the Elections Act
Many people across the UK will have the opportunity to vote shortly May elections. But only days before New laws were pushed through Parliamentwith modifications and permission (Royal Assent). within less than 24 hours. This means that future elections will look very different.
The government has changes enforced that will ensure better protection against electoral fraud, target intimidation of voters at the ballot box and achieve other goals. The new electoral law will make a number of important changes to the way some UK elections work.
While in May citizens only have to give their name to vote, everyone will now have to present a voter’s ID before being given a ballot in UK general and local elections in England.
This will be familiar to voters in Northern Ireland, where it has long held. The primary identification documents required at polling stations are a passport and driver’s license. Scottish and Welsh local and general elections remain unaffected.
Many countries have mandatory voter ID requirements — but they also have mandatory national ID cards. Strict voter identification is problematic in Britain because even the government’s own research suggests that 9% of the public do not have current and recognizable photo ID.
People with severe disabilities, the unemployed and people without a qualification are less suitable. Transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals are significantly less likely to have the required ID.
Voter ID pilots In the local elections of 2018 and 2019, it also turned out that many citizens could not vote because they either did not have the necessary ID or refused to present it on principle.
People without ID can do this apply for a free ID card by their local authority, the government says. However, this is more bureaucracy to navigate and my research shows that the more onerous the process, the less likely people are to vote.
That’s a reasonable prediction 1.1 million people will not vote in future general elections as a result of this reform unless major public relations work is done. There was little evidence of voter fraud to justify this. And we need more voters, not fewer.
Independence of the electoral commission
There is an international norm that electoral commissions should be established independent of the government oversee the election process. This is crucial as those in power could be the ones breaking the rules. Independent Britain electoral commission was founded in 2000 after scandals surrounding party funding and a call to modernize elections.
However, the electoral law now gives the government the power to issue a “strategy and policy statement” for the electoral commission. A parliamentary committee, including the government’s “electoral minister”, will then examine whether the Commission is “appropriately following” these instructions. It is already accountable to a mostly bipartisan section of Parliament.
The commission retains its independence in certain cases, such as when an individual party candidate breaks the rules. But the strategy and policy statement could guide the response to violations in general. Or as a commission itself warned against itthe government could instruct them to encourage voter registration in areas where they have supporters – and worry less about areas where the opposition has greater support.
Who is entitled to vote also changes. The government has scrapped the 15-year restriction on eligible UK citizens living abroad to register in relevant UK elections – a win for expats. But on the other hand, it takes away the vote and standing of some EU citizens who live and pay taxes in the UK.
There are also new complex regulations. Those EU citizens who lived in the UK before January 2021 and have legal immigration status retain their rights in some elections. Other EU citizens will only have such rights if the UK government negotiates a reciprocity agreement with their home country.
That means we’re left with a patchwork quilt of confusing laws. And it’s up to each government to make agreements about who gets to vote and who doesn’t.
Democracy takes a hit
It’s easy to resort to exaggeration, but this is not the end of “free and fair elections,” as has been implied. But the inclusiveness of elections has been undermined by the law and it weakens the UK’s claim to be a beacon of democracy, which is vital in the EU New international order in the Cold War.
Of more concern was the approach to creating the new rules. A barrage of reforms have been lumped together, including more changes to postal voting and proxy voting, changes to local voting systems and more. Some laws apply to some elections and others do not.
This complexity and the simultaneous passage of other controversial bills (such as Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022) created a white noise that blinded effective parliamentary scrutiny and media coverage. And it comes at a time when calls for it have been raised simplify electoral law.
It has long been a tradition for electoral laws to be developed on the basis of consensus by a neutral speaker in Parliament, who chairs a committee at the request of the Prime Minister.
Significant parts of the law were rejected by the human rights and constitutional committees in Parliament electoral commission, democracy groups, decentralized governments and academics. They were also rejected by the Labor opposition and the House of Lords.
Amendments and compromises were proposed by the House of Lords but rejected by the Government, which instead rallied its troops in Parliament to back the new legislation – and surprised the Lords in the final minutes of Parliament.
Democracy isn’t just about voting, it’s about listening and engaging with people. And that is the most undemocratic part of the new electoral law.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/politics/956611/the-important-changes-coming-to-future-elections-in-the-uk The key changes in future UK elections