LONDON — The British government announced plans on Tuesday to crack down on voter fraud by requiring voters to show official identification at polling stations, tightening rules on absentee ballots and preventing political activists from handling absentee ballots.
While some critics argued that fraud was not widespread and that the plans would hit hardest the opposition Labour Party and the poor, the government minister in charge, Chris Skidmore, said that the new measures would “protect anyone who is at risk of being bullied, undermined or tricked out of their vote, and their democratic right.”
The government had commissioned a report on fraud after a scandal in Tower Hamlets, a borough in East London, where the elected mayor was stripped of his office last year and found guilty of corrupt practices involving voting fraud.
The report was compiled by a former cabinet minister, Eric Pickles, who called Tower Hamlets a “wake-up call” when introducing it. “There are sometimes challenging issues over divisive community politics and ethnic-religious polarization, but this is no excuse for failing to enforce British law and protect the integrity of our democratic process,” he concluded in the report.
In his report, he cited research suggesting that certain Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities could be more vulnerable to fraud. He suggested that “kinship” traditions emphasized collective over individual rights and made it more likely that people would “hand over” their vote to others.
Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor and a hard-left member of the Labour Party before being suspended for anti-Semitic comments, said that the new checks would make life more difficult for many to vote.
“The real problem is the people most likely not to have a passport or a driving license are going to be the poorest and that I suspect will basically hit the Labour Party,” he told the BBC on Tuesday.
Some suggested that the changes, to be used first for local elections in 18 areas in May 2018, would most affect Britain’s Asian communities, which tend to vote Labour. Among those areas considered most susceptible to fraud are Birmingham and Bradford, which have large Muslim communities.
Cat Smith, the Labour member in charge of voter engagement and youth affairs, said the party as a whole supported the changes. But she criticized what she called Conservative Party moves in general to reduce the electoral rolls.
Altered regulations requiring students to vote where they are registered or by postal ballot, rather than at their schools, are thought to have cut voter turnout in the June referendum on leaving the European Union, also known as “Brexit,” which young people generally opposed.
Mr. Skidmore said that the trial in 2018 was partly intended to see what kinds of proof of identity were best in a country without a national identity card, unlike most of Europe.
It is possible that other proof of address like utility bills or proof of voter registration may be used as well as documents with photographs, like driving licenses and passports.
Mr. Skidmore also rejected the accusation that electoral fraud was associated with any one community, although he said racial and cultural sensitivities might have discouraged the police from earlier investigating the case of Tower Hamlets.
After absentee ballots were made available to any registered voter in 2000 under the prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, there was evidence that some political activists were “harvesting” them from old addresses and filling them out, or collecting them in bulk from some voters.
Voters in Northern Ireland, with a long history of electoral pressure in a divided community, have had identity checks at polling stations since 1985, and since 2002 have had to bring photographic IDs, since other forms of documentation were too easily forged.
The Electoral Reform Society, a lobbying group, criticized the government’s plan as a “sledgehammer to crack a nut,” arguing that voting fraud was not widespread in Britain and that “the government should think very carefully before introducing barriers to voting,” said its chief executive, Katie Ghose.
“Raising barriers to democratic participation could just put people off voting — and evidence from the U.S. shows that it’s generally those already most excluded from the political process that are worst affected by strict ID laws,” she said. “The government should think again and look at all the evidence on voter ID before deciding to use this blunt instrument.”
The group had previously criticized the referendum to leave the European Union for “glaring democratic deficiencies,” in particular because voters had been so ill-informed, since “misleading claims could be made with total impunity.”
Separately, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, reacted angrily to comments by President Obama — made in the same interview in which he said he would have defeated President-elect Donald J. Trump — that seemed to suggest that the Labour Party had lost its footing.
Asked if, after Hillary Clinton’s election defeat, the Democrats could undergo “Corbynization” and “disintegrate” like Labour, Mr. Obama said he was not concerned.
“I don’t worry about that, partly because I think that the Democratic Party has stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality,” he said.
A party spokesman said that Mr. Corbyn “stands for what most people want” and suggested that the American Democratic Party needed to “challenge power if they are going to speak for working people and change a broken system that isn’t delivering for the majority.”
This article was sourced from http://usnewsee.com