By: Molly Cowell
Voter Fraud has been a key issue in world politics in recent months, especially following the 2020 US election and the UK Government’s more recent proposals to require photo ID in order to cast a vote and in 2021 34 US states have some form of voter ID measures with a wide range of severity of policy; 14 states having tightened their policy with new laws this year alone. The introduction of hackable electronic ballots as well as the use of traditional postal ballots have raised questions about the ease of access to voter data and the manner in which votes can be altered, helping lead to such legislation. However, not only is voter fraud and corruption difficult to prove in many instances; it is also a rare issue when compared to the scale of the total votes cast; thus the extent of the issue is hard to measure, paving way to a complex debate.
Voter Fraud can include anything from trying to reduce the vote share of rivals to attempting to increase the vote share of favoured parties. This may occur by paying for people to vote a certain way, registering and voting in multiple locations in the same election (duplicate voting), using a fake identity to register to vote, impersonating other registered voters and voting on behalf of those who are unable to vote independently, without their knowledge (fraudulent use of absentee ballots.) This illustrates the broad range of techniques employed by people in an attempt to alter election results. These can happen on individual scales and, as seen in the past with many dictatorships, on a state-wide level too. Attempts to alter election results in these instances were previously seen through voter suppression rather than direct fraud, which still aptly depicts the need for free and fair elections.
Voter fraud fundamentally undermines democracy by giving unequitable political power to specific members of the electorate without the consent of others, which cannot occur in a system which relies on free and fair elections. It is important to remember that it is a civil right to vote in free and fair elections in the US and a human right in the UK, and so to interfere with this is a severe offence which can lead to fines or imprisonment, if proven. It is also deeply problematic as it may lead to the election of unqualified and dangerous candidates and thus can be used to deliberately destabilise institutions if conducted successfully on a mass scale. As a result, the UK conservative government is aiming to introduce a system in which voters must provide ID in order to participate.
On the other hand, many people are arguing that the issue is not significant enough to act upon, as proposals to tackle it risk compromising democracy in other ways. For example, those policies implementing the need to provide ID risk excluding those unable to afford the costs of it.
In May, the Queen of England took up her traditional role in the UK parliament of reading out the (Conservative) Government’s plans for the coming parliamentary year, in terms of policy. A part of this announcement included plans totackle voter fraud with a new Bill which would mandate the presentation of voter ID on election day, in order to cast a ballot. This has proven highly controversial and follows the US Republican’s policy which suggests a major and united change in right wing Western politics.
What seems to concern most people is that all valid photo ID is costly, and many poorer voters will not own it as it would mean sacrificing provisions elsewhere, such as food due to the expenditure. An estimated 3.5 million do not carry photographic ID in the UK. As a result, many are suggesting that it oppresses entire socio-economic classes and denies them the right to vote by removing accessibility. Interestingly, it is traditional that the working classes (those most likely to be unable to pay for ID) vote for leftist parties, so for this policy to appear in the manifesto of a right-wing party does raise some questions regarding state voter suppression and the manipulation of election results.
The debate fundamentally boils down to balancing the risks of the rare incidents of people tampering with elections and the inevitability of excluding already vulnerable groups from the democratic process. The big question is: what is more democratic? There has not yet been a solution reached that both sides are able to agree on, yet one poll suggests some 80% of Americans support voter ID laws, suggesting public opinion is beginning to swing the debate. As for the UK Bill, it has not yet been made into UK law, so it is likely the debate will continue for some time. However, due to the fact the government has a significant majority in the legislative body, it is unlikely to be defeated on the matter, and there is no doubt we will see mass protests emerge over the coming months as the pandemic eases and neo-political matters evolve to fit the new, post-pandemic landscape.
Written by Molly Cowell