BtB - Voter ID

Voter ID

How some political parties believe that voting should be reserved for rich white people.


In the United States there is a significant disagreement over the implementation of so-called 'Voter-ID' schemes.

Broadly the idea is that the act of voting is something important and that anyone who is entitled to vote should identify themselves when they cast their vote, to ensure the integrity of the process. The form of the identification is usually expected to be a driving licence or passport, though other forms of government photographic ID are generally acceptable.

When expressed like that it all seems pretty sensible.

But it's not as simple as that.

Voters in the US have not needed identification in the past when casting a vote. The reason, essentially, is that the right to vote is established when the voter registers to vote in the first place. Once registered, you can cast your vote simply by knowing your name and address, since that will be enough to ensure someone doesn't vote twice.

So why isn't that enough? Well there is only one legitimate reason to change the system. You can argue that the system needs changing if, in the past, votes have been cast illegally. So, obviously, we need to find out if that's true.

In fact a number of detailed studies have looked at any suggested impropriety and the numbers of votes that shouldn't have been counted, for one reason or another, turns out to be less than one in every million votes cast. In some studies it's even less frequent, but the most generous assessment is still less than one in a million.

Still. Even one in a million is one too many, right? Yes. In a perfect world that's true, but we live in the real world. In the real world it's so close to zero as to be irrelevant.

On the other hand implementing voter identification schemes has its own impact, because sometimes, for whatever reason, it means someone is refused the chance to vote when they are entitled. Studies suggest that this is a problem in between one in a thousand and one in a hundred voters, assuming the schemes are implemented fairly. But in practice they often aren't implemented fairly. People manning voting booths are now expected to make a decision as to whether the person standing in front of them has presented appropriate ID. Could it be faked? Does the spelling of the name match? Is it expired? Close to expiry? Is it current now, but will have expired by the time the votes are counted?

This adds in a human element to the process, an assessment by someone as to whether the voter has cleared the hurdle. Humans are fallible, of course, but they also bring possible biases. Maybe someone is less likely to trust an error in the spelling of a name on an ID if the bearer is from an ethnic minority or has an accent, for example.

It also raises the chance that the voter will forget to bring ID with them and be turned away. Every time that happens there's a good chance they may not queue up again and they therefore lose their chance to vote.

More generally, those who already have suitable ID and, for example, drive to the polling station are more likely to be able to vote than someone who has to remember to bring their ID on the bus. Acceptable ID is much more common among wealthy people than the poor. If you don't have acceptable ID then applying for it may be time-consuming or difficult or expensive.

In one, well known, example in the US there was the farcical situation where the office granting the voter ID cards was only open for a few hours every fifth Wednesday of each month. Most months don't have a fifth Wednesday.

All this means that adding identification rules at the voting booth will not, in the real world, improve the integrity of the voting process and will, instead, deny a substantial proportion of people their vote. Obviously that's never going to be acceptable, right? Right?

Enter the Republican Party. Republicans hold some things to be self-evident, and I'm not talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness here. Republicans know, or at least believe, that rich white voters vote Republican and everyone else doesn't. The real world is never as simple as that, of course, but nonetheless they aren't far away from the truth. Rich white people overwhelmingly vote Republican. In the US media this is often attributed to the belief that Republicans are more fiscally responsible, believing in low taxes, a strong economy and responsible spending. This is all fiction.

I don't believe that being rich and white inherently makes you stupid. For a voter to vote Republican on the basis of economic policy is just stupid. Republican governments, all of them, wreck the economy with tax-cuts and spending splurges. They cut programmes that support the progression of motivated but less educated workers into productive roles and they waste resources on programmes that pointlessly pour money into the hands of people who already have more than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes.

Every Democratic government comes in to office to find the country is a disaster area and then has to devote the entire administration's efforts to putting out the fires. If you think there is some connection between 'financial responsibility' and 'vote Republican' then you are assuming the American voter is stupid.

So why do rich white people vote Republican? Well, it's because they're rich and white. Americans have been raised to believe that citizenship is a competitive sport. You and yours have to 'win', and do so by 'defeating' your neighbours and your friends. America doesn't believe, and has never believed, in keeping up with the Jones's. America believes in beating the Jones's and rubbing their noses in it.

Republicans offer the rich American a promise that no additional help will be provided to poor Americans. So that means if you began the competition with a head start you get to keep it. And, though this isn't universally true, many white Americans like the idea that, along with protecting their special status in the country, the Republicans will also make sure the people who aren't white don't get all 'uppity'.

Republicans love voter ID laws.

Of course they do. These laws achieve nothing useful but act to ensure that a proportion of poor voters, black voters, latin voters, never get to vote. In the US these laws have become a battleground and, with Republicans dominating politics at the State level, it's one the villains are winning.

Which all sounds like a damning indictment of American politics and Americans. Oh well.

Want to know what's worse? What's infinitely, horrifically, sickeningly worse?

The UK

In the UK the same thing's being done, right now, and absolutely nobody cares. It's like we have a conservative movement so enmeshed in our society that we can't even notice them. Is our vision based on movement? If they just sit in the same place for long enough do we forget they're even there?

Five local elections became part of a pilot scheme for voter ID rules in the UK in May 2018. In Woking, Gosport, Swindon, Bromley and Watford you had to provide a suitable form of ID to vote. In the UK, in 2017, the number of alleged cases where impersonation led to an invalid vote being cast is less than one per million votes. Not only that, in the cases where this was alleged (less than 30) only one case, that's one vote, out of tens on millions actually had merit and was prosecuted. So, again, there's no need for it, its sole purpose is to stop people voting. Poor people, that is.

In May 2019 the scheme will expand to 9 local authority elections and the courts have already declared the scheme 'legal'. There are lots of things that are legal but unethical, lots of things that are legal but unconscionable. The Daily Mail, for example. I don't want them running elections either.

So what do we find is the actual effect of these ID schemes? Well during the 2018 pilot a total of 340 legitimate voters were turned away. Remember that's 340 voters unable to vote in just five local boroughs. Obviously that number would be hundreds of times larger if the scheme was nationwide. And this trampling of our rights is in order to prevent (in 2017) one case of impersonation nationally. Does it really make sense to deny tens of thousands their rights in order to prevent one fraudulent case?

In our criminal justice system we have a principle that we presume innocence. That's because we would rather see a guilty person freed than an innocent one imprisoned. With voter ID we're imprisoning tens of thousands of innocent people because it's possible, somewhere, that someone, who we haven't caught, is guilty of something, maybe.

Imagine if we used the same rules to apply to MPs? One MP gets caught falsifying his expenses so we imprison all MPs for life. Just in case. I mean, you never know. We must ensure the integrity of the system.

In other words this isn't about voting integrity, it never was. It's about limiting the number of poor people and people from inner cities (urban dwellers are less likely to drive so less likely to have photo ID) who vote. I wonder what common attribute in the UK is more frequently seen among the poor and the city-dwelling users of public transport? Is it their shared love for live televised Biathlon? No, that's not it. Oh right, I know, they're less likely to be white.

It's partly the fault of Brexit, of course. Brexit is an absolute gift to the extreme wing of our Conservative Party. The entire country has been able to think about almost nothing else, so while that noise and anger is distracting us the right-wing in Britain has begun systematically dismantling our rights.

Just so you know, it's exactly the same issue as in the US, operated by exactly the same people. A loose coalition of the racists, the fascists, the entitled wealthy and the establishment is going after your democratic rights. If it happens it will be the single largest erosion of popular participation in British government since the Civil War. British conservatives want a thousand year, er, something, and this is their method.

And most British people have never heard of it.

Left-wing media bias? Yeah, right.

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