Liberty’s Identity Crisis
by Monty Skew
Liberty is the leading human rights advocacy group in Britain. Readers, especially those concerned for democracy, may be interested in Liberty’s briefing before the Voter ID Bill. A recent letter from a variety of civil society groups, co-ordinated by Liberty, objected to the Voter Integrity Bill currently before Parliament. The Bill would make it mandatory for photo ID to be shown before casting a vote.
There are many reasons for opposing voter ID. It is not part of the British democratic tradition and even Tory MP David Davis has opposed the proposal. If implemented, it could be used for more than voting. Northern Ireland was for many years a hotbed of electoral fraud. Sometimes more people voted than were on the electoral register. The slogan was ‘vote early vote often’. The province was the first area in Britain to be allowed PR proportional representation for European Parliamentary elections. Soon afterwards photo ID was introduced for all elections in NI. Voter fraud has virtually disappeared although there have been cases of dead individuals ‘voting’.
In its aforementioned letter, Liberty stated that there had been only one conviction for personation. But there have been numerous convictions for postal voting fraud.
This was not mentioned. Nor was registration fraud. There is a difference between personation, registration fraud and electoral fraud. For instance, some individuals will register on the electoral register (even if they are not residing at an address or have left ) because it is necessary for opening bank accounts, accessing credit etc. They may never actually vote and have no intention of committing voting fraud. It is perfectly legal to vote where one is registered even if no longer resident. Registration fraud is registration by misrepresentation for the purpose of casting a vote. The following are examples: registering when there is no connection to the address. It is not a parental home, or lived by a partner or ex-partner etc. Voting fraud is more active. It includes voting by impersonation (for instance casting a vote for somebody who had died) or voting by misrepresentation by pretending to be someone else. Postal voting fraud involves voting on behalf of somebody by claiming to be voting with their consent.
But although small examples of voter fraud have always existed organised forms are relatively recent and followed the lowest turnout in electoral history in 2001. New Labour, with its obsession for modernisation which would ‘renew the democratic process’, introduced and encouraged postal voting. In the event, it did not make much difference to turnout. Postal voting, online registration, advertising, PR for some elections, etc have not increased turnout (except at one election). Voters are staying away. It is not an organised boycott more a reluctance to vote at all when there is little de facto choice. But clan-based Asian groups in some mostly Labour-held constituencies used postal voting fraud to skew the result. There have been trials and convictions. All were met with complete silence from HR and ‘democratic participation’ groups in order ‘not to inflame prejudice’. Only Policy Exchange, the right-of-centre think tank, highlighted the issue of postal voting fraud. But Liberty and the others said nothing during the trials of several ‘community leaders’ and others who were sentenced for voter fraud. Not even when the Electoral Commission (chaired by former Liberty worker) commissioned a report on the subject in 2015. The report suggested but did not advocate voter ID to help to combat the problem. They must now bitterly regret their politically-correct reticence. For the Voter Integrity Bill, if passed, will mean mandatory cards for voting and eventually for everything else. Voter ID could encourage more people to stay away. Indeed, opponents claim that this is its real purpose.
Voter ID must be opposed on principle. But this opposition must be balanced with harsh penalties for those found guilty of voter electoral/fraud. This is precisely what the civil society groups have not done in the past. Now that the democratic groups led by Liberty and NGOs like Make Votes Matter etc, are faced with the Voter Integrity Bill, they are up in arms and jointly sent a letter denouncing the proposal. Stonewall, Operation Black Vote and Gendered Intelligence, a pro-trans group, oppose the bill. Gendered Intelligence believes that male and female have no meaning and that ‘there are many genders’. This organisation maintains that the bill would discourage trans people from voting. But strangely, after claiming unconvincingly that trans persons would be excluded by Voter ID, there was no mention of this issue by Charlie Whelton, the author of Liberty’s more recent briefing.
Liberty should have called for much tougher penalties for voter fraud, such as a lifelong bar on voting or loss of all political rights. This is common in many countries and several US states. It is separate from penalties for ordinary felonies which can also lead to the loss of voting rights. But voter fraud, because it strikes against the basic democratic principles of society, should extract a higher penalty. A society which does not deter voting fraud cannot be properly democratic. Liberty thinks otherwise. Liberty, currently chaired by Sonali Naik QC, from Garden Court Chambers, was previously led by Shami Chakrabarti. Both have been reluctant to discuss voter fraud because it implicated ethnic minority communities. Such minorities are marginalised, Liberty has claimed in various publications.
It is also true that several million people do not have photo ID of any kind: no bank cards or utility bills etc Some of them are not on the electoral register because they do not stay long enough to be on it. The housing market and short-term lets are thereby skewing the register. These individuals are unfairly denied access to bank accounts and services etc. If they were issued with free ID cards this would undoubtedly help them in other situations. But that would inevitably lead to a national ID card system by the back door which should be opposed as it is not part of the British tradition. By naively attempting to overlook the activities of vote fraudsters, the NGOS, notably Liberty, inadvertently undermine the arguments against voter ID. In attempting to ‘protect’ a minority they may well damage the majority.