Last month, I received a call from Civil Rights icon Rev. Al Sharpton thanking me and Operation Black Vote for mobilising UK and European support against ongoing tactics to suppress voting rights in the United States. The Rev. along with Martin Luther King 3rd marched on Washington DC and other cities against suppression of voting rights which are having a devastating impact on racialised and other minorities in the United States.
The current nationwide demonstrations in the United States where hundreds of thousands of people have joined to fight back against voter suppression tactics have echoed the Freedom Summer Project of 1964, when voting rights advocates mobilised across the South to register disenfranchised people to vote. The current marches have also coincided with the 58th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s, ‘I have a dream speech.
Today’s peaceful protests by civil rights activists who are seeking to enhance democracy and inclusion are in sharp contrast to the deadly assault on capitol Hill, which saw Trump supporters engage in carnage whilst goaded on by the white supremacist in-chief President Donald Trump.
However, democracy is not only under threat in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the government’s Voter ID proposal outlined in the Voter ID Bill will, whether by design or default, potentially disenfranchise 2 million voters with the overwhelming majority of those being from poor backgrounds and/or BAME communities.
The government proposal is worrying because BAME communities already have some of the lowest uptake in terms of voter registration and this proposal threatens to further weaken their engagement in our democratic process.
The Government’s main public argument is that the proposal will prevent electoral fraud. However, the numbers don’t add up as at the last election there was only one conviction for fraud. No system will ever be fully secure from fraud but the current system with only one conviction is about secure as will be possible.
If the government is serious about tackling fraud and protecting the democratic process, then it would be better off spending the 20 million pounds on Voter ID on voter registration and citizenship campaigns. With 20 million pounds, we could get more than one million people registered to vote which in turn will lead to a positive culture change in how young people, particularly those from BAME communities, can positively engage and influence our democratic process.