Why Trump's voter fraud claims matter in the UK

Why Trump's voter fraud claims matter in the UK

Catherine Neilan

09:08 6th November 2020

Donald Trump is in the end-game of the presidential race, and it shows.

The incumbent made a series of unsubstantiated allegations to claim he is being cheated out of re-election after his Democratic opponent appealed for calm and patience.

"They are trying to rig an election," Mr Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room. He claimed that if only "legal" votes were counted he would be declared the winner, arguing that the election is "being stolen".

CBS, MSNBC, ABC and NBC all stopped airing the president's address on the grounds that his assertions were baseless.

Several of them also fact-checked him - something which is essential, although at this stage feels like a sandcastle in a tsunami.

Trump's attitude towards the truth has always been selective, and it has been allowed to grow from a trickle to the tidal wave we now face, where millions of his supporters believe his claims of voter fraud, without any evidence to support them.

As extensive research has shown, voter fraud is very rare. Yet repeated, false allegations can pave the way for voters to be disenfranchised - and this is a problem in the UK as much as it is in the US.

Strict voter ID laws, now on the books in 14 of the 50 states, have had a lot of attention over the past several years. Supporters argue that they're necessary to stop voter fraud, particularly voter impersonation.

But research on voter fraud has found again and again that it's extremely rare in the US, with instances of just a few hundred fraudulent votes in national elections with more than 100 million active participants.

Here in the UK, Boris Johnson ran on a mandate of getting Brexit done - but those few who went beyond the bluster and actually read the manifesto would have found a commitment to impose mandatory voter ID for all Westminster elections - despite widespread opposition in Scotland and Wales, as well as a major UK-wide coalition of charities and campaigners.

The argument here is much the same as the one used in America: a former Government adviser I spoke to recently pointed to Tower Hamlets as an example of widespread voter fraud.

The problem here was undeniable: In 2014, local elections in the borough had to be rerun after former mayor Lutfur Rahman was convicted of voting fraud after forged postal ballots, "ghost voters" on the register and false addresses were uncovered in their droves. Mr Rahman was removed from office in 2015 and banned from standing for election for five years.

A 2016 Electoral Commission report pointed out that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, and 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence.

But that is not holding the Tories back from their plans, contained in a new Electoral Integrity Bill, which will also limit the number of relatives for whom anyone can act as a proxy, and outlaw the "harvesting" of postal ballots by political parties and activists.

Voters without the required documentation would be able to apply for a free "electoral ID" from their local council.

The proposals - which would have already been introduced to the Commons if it weren't for coronavirus - are likely to be opposed by Labour, who have previously attacked a pilot schemes as a "blatant attempt" to "rig" elections.

But, with something that has the potential to disenfranchise some of the poorest - many of whom already feel they do not have a voice - it is vital that this issue does not get dragged into the usual party political squabbles.

Efforts must be made to understand exactly what the impact of voter ID will be, particularly on immigrant communities, and whether there are alternatives that could bolster the system without hindering participation.

We need more democracy - not less - and any action that risks cutting people out from the process should be blocked.

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Tags: Donald Trump Conspiracy theories Open dialogue Joe Biden Democracy