Campaign launched to boost Londoners’ election participation

Campaign launched to boost Londoners’ election participation

A public awareness campaign has been launched to maximise participation in elections by Londoners and address what City Hall calls “the equalities impact” of government legislation making it more difficult for people to vote.

With the next contests for London Mayor and London Assembly seats due in May 2024 and a general election certain by January 2025 at the latest, the Greater London Authority (GLA) has joined forces with social enterprise Shout Out UK (SOUK) to improve voter registration and, in particular, inform people about the new legal requirement to produce specific forms of photographic identification before they are allowed to cast their vote at a polling station.

It has been estimated that at least 1.1 million (page 25) and perhaps nearly two million fewer people will vote in UK elections as a result of “voter ID”, a controversial element of the government’s Elections Act (2022) introduced when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister and passed by Parliament last April. Many of these are likely to be in London which already has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the UK.

A YouGov survey commissioned by the GLA has found that six out of ten Londoners eligible to vote are unaware of the changes to the democratic system ahead of the introduction of Voter ID, which will first come into effect at local elections elsewhere in England in May and for general elections from October. Of those who were aware, only a minority know which forms of ID will be accepted.

Voters in lower income households were found to be significantly less likely than those in the higher income categories to know about Voter ID and its requirements, and only around one in ten Londoners overall said they possess one of the approved forms of Voter ID, such as a passport, driving licence or photo travelcard.

The GLA and SOUK say half a million Londoners do not even possess a passport, at least 2.6 million do not have a full driving licence, few disabled Londoners would be able to produce a photo travel pass, and that only one in five black Londoners and one in three Londoners who are citizens of European Union countries are even registered to vote.

At the last elections for Mayor and Assembly members, held in May 2021, Greater London had 6.2 million registered electors out of a total population, including under-18s, of up to nine million. Turnout for the mayoral ballot was 42 per cent.

The Elections Act has also done away with the traditional supplementary vote system – used for electing London’s Mayors since the very first such election in 2000 – which allows voters to express both a first and a second preference for Mayor. It has been replaced by the less sophisticated first past the post system, which gives voters only one choice and means a Mayor can be installed with the support of less than half of the voting electorate.

Last spring Bob Kerslake, former president of the Local Government Association and former head of the civil service, was strongly critical of the then proposed new law, saying it went “completely against the principle that legislation on how we vote should only be brought forward after extensive public consultation and with a high level of consensus”.

Kerslake concurred with the view of campaign group Liberty that the introduction of Voter ID is “a solution in search of a problem” due to the paucity of evidence that people impersonate others at polling stations, and said it was hard to see the government’s decision to “ride roughshod” over earlier consultations and, in London, a referendum, that led to the use of the supplementary vote system and replace it with first past the post as motivated by anything other than “perceived electoral advantage”.

Depriving Londoners of a second preference vote for Mayor is thought likely to split support for left and centre mayoral candidates, giving the Conservatives a better chance of defeating Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan who has been nominated to seek re-election. Voter ID is also widely held to reduce support for politicians of the left as it adversely affects a larger percentage of potential voters more likely to back them.

On London strives to provide more of the kind of  journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for just £5 a month. You will even get things for your money. Details here.

Categories: News

1 Comment

  1. Adam Gray says:

    Voter ID is not a solution looking for a problem. Nor is the so-called “estimate” of people likely to be disenfranchised the least credible.

    Typically between a third and three quarters (depending on the type of election) of Londoners do not vote. In one council by-election in Wigan last December, 95% didn’t vote. It is likely that those who lack any personal ID or the capacity to obtain some will overwhelmingly be drawn from those who do not vote anyway. For the disengaged or marginalised, voting is not close to the top of the issues concerning them.

    This sizeable cluster is not desperate to vote: they are utterly disinterested in politics; oftentimes don’t even really grasp what politics is. Nothing will get them to the polling station and making voting more secure will therefore not disenfranchise them: their enfranchisement is zero already. By choice.

    Now let’s turn to the widely accepted but wrong assertion that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The basis for this claim is the lack of complaints to the police of fraud.

    Voter fraud is not like financial fraud. We do not have a votebank account which we can log into and see that a chunk of our votes are gone. We cannot cancel a poll card the way we can cancel a credit card. The only way we discover a stolen vote is by turning up at a polling station to find it already cast. And between a third and three quarters never do.

    Honestly, how many of us – even discovering this crime – would care enough to go through the protracted investigation all the way to the High Court, solely to reclaim a vote that is highly, highly, highly unlikely to alter an election result long ago declared? An electoral fraudster is even less likely to be caught by the Met Police than a burglar.

    The reality is not that voter fraud is negligible. It is that we have no idea how prevalent it is, and no means of measuring it in our insecure polling stations. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    Political parties have a right to obtain the “marked electoral register” following each election: that is, a copy of the register used in polling stations that shows who voted and who didn’t. Parties know who never votes. And potential fraudsters have that almost certainty of getting away with it. Why wouldn’t some, especially in this day and age of shameless politicians for whom truth is subjective, choose to cheat? Maybe they won’t. But why not put a little fence around our ballot boxes just to make it that much less tempting so to do? Not a reinforced concrete wall. Just a little white picket border that will immeasurably improve confidence in the security of our elections?

    A few years ago there were several high profile cases of postal vote electoral fraud. These cases arose in specific areas and could hardly be called widespread. Nonetheless, government introduced “personal identifiers”: the requirement for a signature and a date of birth returned with the postal vote that matched those on the application for that postal vote. These are each checked by the council.

    Quite a few postal votes get rejected for no other reason than the voter has written the day’s date instead of their DOB on this identifier – it’s that strict a requirement. Rightly, even though there is no question of the vote being fraudulent. If an equivalent outcome now happens at a polling station is that really too high a price to pay for the gain of confidence in our elections?

    Three final points. First, voter ID has been required in Northern Ireland for years. Northern Ireland generally has the highest voter turnouts in the United Kingdom. I’m not suggesting cause and effect here – just that evidently there is no curtailment of Northern Irish voters’ ability to cast their ballot.

    Second: the principal advocate of voter ID has not been the Conservative Party – or any politician. It’s been the independent Electoral Commission. This is not a partisan effort to rig elections away from Labour. It’d take far more than this insipid little measure to change the electoral dynamics of London.

    Third: voter ID has been trialled around the country these past couple of years. Were masses of voters disenfranchised? No. Were some turned away? Yes – and the evidence is that these people went home and then returned with sufficient ID to be issued with a ballot paper. The difference in turnout between wards that trialled voter ID and those that were unsecured was negligible – if existing at all.

    Is asking for identification that almost everyone – even in London – holds or is able to obtain an egregious attempt at voter suppression? Of course it isn’t. Let’s have sufficient confidence in the capacity of voters to be able to identify themselves instead of the [often racist] slander that London’s non-voters are too inept to manage to prove their identity at a polling station. And in so doing we can all have confidence in the security of our votes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *