Discussions around voter IDs and their potential use for tackling voter fraud have resurfaced once again. Some Cabinet members argue that the implication of photo ID requirements will help tackle illegal voting. What they fail to acknowledge is that such a policy could disenfranchise up to 3.5 million voters within Britain. Enacting such electoral reform would undo the fantastic democratic enfranchisement work that has been carried out by organisations such as Operation Black Vote and their director Lord Simon Woolley.
Operation Black Vote was launched in July 1996 following years of intense spouts of racial violence and the new Immigration and Asylum Bill, which targeted minority ethnic groups. At the time even the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police made a statement targeting Black youths to curb street crime, a statement that was rightfully regarded as insensitive and unequivocally damaging to the Black community.
In response to these events, and numerous investigations into Britain’s racial inequalities which detailed the severity of racial inequality, Charter88 and activists at The 1990 Trust decided that they had to make a stand. They began by accessing and noting all data regarding the minority electoral power. They realised that the African, Asian and Caribbean votes all held a massive amount of democratic power. They realised that by increasing ethnic minority voter turnout they would be able to use their voting leverage to impact future policies for racial equality, they just had to spread awareness of the fact.
Within just ten months of its creation Operation Black Vote held a hundred meetings across the country and distributed a quarter of a million voter registration cards. Their community work and coverage had an immediate effect on national and local politics. MPs began agreeing to take part in OBV Question Time meetings, promises of racial equality could be noted and utilised in the future and most importantly Prime Minister John Mayor admitted that young Black men faced a harsher reality than many young white men.
While it is impossible to see the exact direct effect that Lord Woolley and OBV had on the electorate, it is clear that the work carried out by the group helped to destroy much of the ‘cynicism’ that surrounded our democratic system.
OBV has and continues to help thousands of voters to utilise their voice in fighting for a more inclusive future. They continue to focus on political education, participation and representation with Britain’s electorate to this day. Lord Woolley remains a vital figure in fighting for voting rights and political engagement across Britain and is one of the leading voices pushing back against voter ID policies.
Lord Simon Woolley’s Achievements
Simon by no means had an easy childhood. He grew up on a council estate in Leicester and left school without any A-levels. He was also fostered and adopted. From a young age he had to deal with immense stress, but he refused to allow his situation to define him or his future.
He would return to education and obtain a masters degree, pioneer racial equality in Britain with his activism and be appointed to lead the government’s Race Disparity Unit in 2018. Simon has also been recently appointed as Homerton College’s principal and was thrilled to be able to fill a position which values ‘inclusion, dynamism and integrity’.
Simon remains outspoken when he believes that the government is failing minority ethnic groups. He produced a piece in The Guardian detailing how the race disparity commission missed a key opportunity to detail the significance of racial inequality in Britain. Instead, Simon argues, the report was a ‘historic denial’ of the fact. This example proves that Lord Woolley strives for racial equality in all instances, even if it means he butts head with the current government.
Why Voting ID Requirements could Disenfranchise Thousands
Universal suffrage is by no means a long established tradition, it has only been implemented in Britain from 1928. Since then there have been a multitude of changes to allow for greater enfranchisement, including reducing the voting age from twenty one to eighteen in 1969. Scotland has also reduced the voting age again to sixteen for local and devolved elections.
The common theme between these changes is the broadening of the voting populace, photo ID requirements would do exactly the opposite. Simon and other electoral progressives have detailed how introducing such a change would not only diminish the voter turnout across the nation, but that it would also have a disproportionate effect on Black and minority ethnic people.
With estimates of 3.5 million people being affected by the possible change you would assume voter fraud must be running rampant for politicians to suggest such a change. According to data from the Electoral Commission the police only investigated fifteen cases of voter fraud in 2020. This data shows the inane thought behind the ID proposition, tackling fifteen accounts of voter fraud is somehow worth potentially alienating millions of voters. The IDs essentially would be an act of disenfranchisement.
Furthermore, the enforcement of photographic ID requirements would also make voting even more difficult for the homeless. All forms of photographic identification cost a substantial amount of money. Essentially with the implementation of ID requirements the right to vote would be monetised. While it may not be on the same level as the standards set in the eighteenth century the step would still disproportionately affect those facing significant economic hardship and disenfranchise many because of it.
With one in four Black and Asian people not being registered to vote it is baffling that many politicians would rather focus on enacting changes that would only exacerbate this issue. The government’s efforts and policy making should be focusing on supporting groups such as OBV in increasing voter turnout and political literacy. Enabling the British people to vote effectively and knowingly is one of the key steps in producing an inclusive and diverse society. Thankfully, electoral and racial activists such as Lord Woolley are able to be the voice for those threatened with disenfranchisement across the nation.