Tom Garner plans to speak to voters from 7am until 10pm about the new ID requirements being rolled out in England, Josiah Mortimer reports
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A voter will stage a one-man protest outside his local polling station this Thursday, as mandatory voter ID is implemented for the first time in centuries in England.
Tom Garner, a 35-year-old writer, says the “gerrymandering” that voter ID laws represent have marked the “last straw” for him – and he wants to make his voice heard. It is the first time in more than a decade that he has protested.
Garner, based in Warwickshire, has spent almost his entire working life under Conservative governments. He says he has suffered from the impact of tuition fees, low pay, a botched handling of the pandemic, and the pernicious impact of a hard Brexit – all taking place under a voting system that he believes is already warped against ordinary people.
Garner plans to peacefully sit outside his local polling station in Kenilworth for the entire time during voting hours, from 7am to 10pm. He will not disrupt voters from casting their vote, he told Byline Times.
“I want everyone to vote, which is why I am protesting against Voter ID,” he said. Garner has contacted the police to make sure he will not be breaking any laws by protesting and they have confirmed that his protest can go ahead.
Around two million people in Britain are estimated to lack photo ID, according to the Government’s own figures.
Garner, who lives in a safe Conservative seat, says he has always had to vote tactically under Westminster’s one-party-takes-all First Past the Post voting system.
“It never works,” he added. Now he is concerned that mandatory voter ID is an attempt to tilt the balance further in the Conservatives’ favour. People on low incomes and some ethnic minority groups are less likely to have the photo ID required than wealthier white voters.
While older persons’ Freedom Passes will be accepted as photo ID, young person’s railcards will not.
Tom Garner has been driven to action by the Government’s voter ID law
“I’m of that generation that’s grown up with endless Tory governments penalising young people,” he told Byline Times. “This started in my early 20s with austerity cuts and then Brexit and the car crash of the government constantly since 2016 in particular. There’s a sense of my generation being unfairly targeted.”
As a history writer, Garner sees the new voter ID laws as similar to 19th Century requirements to show proof of property ownership to vote. He believes that the voting rights of young people are being attacked and compared it to crony-led “Tammany Hall” politics in the United States.
He is worried that the Voter ID law represents a slippery slope. “It doesn’t take much for rights to be stripped away,” he said. “With ID, old people can present their bus pass, but young people can’t present young people’s railcards. That’s gerrymandering. No one in the press uses that word, but it’s a slippery slope.
“We are regressing to before the Great Reform Act of 1832, to before the Peterloo protests. This policy is like the ‘rotten boroughs’ of that time.”
Garner does not see himself as a ‘political’ or protesting person – but feels he has no other choice but to protest this Thursday. “I have no contacts, I’m not part of any action group, I have to do it myself,” he said. “We all get angry, and often we don’t do anything about it, but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
He is inviting people to come and say hello to him during his protest. The West Midlands campaigner plans to make a placard saying “Voter ID rigs democracy” and will sit with a chair near the polling station all day, engaging in “civil discourse” if people want to talk to him.
While he has photo ID so that he can vote, he says he is standing up for others who don’t have a voice. He will vote just before polls close at 10pm.
The protest comes as the Good Law Project announces plans to bring forward a legal challenge over new mandatory voter ID rules, amid mounting concerns that the Elections Act 2022 could lead to significant numbers being turned away from polling stations.
The voter ID law is expected to cost the taxpayer up to £180 million over 10 years. Acceptable photo ID includes the Older Person’s Bus Pass or 60+ Oyster Card – but not 18+ Oyster Cards or 16-25 or 26-30 railcards.
Good Law Project has been raising concerns about how these rules could disenfranchise young people and other communities.
The Government recently introduced a free Voter Authority Certificate, but the latest figures show that the scheme has had a poor take up with only 4% of the estimated 2.1 million people who do not have valid ID applying for one, as Byline Times has reported.
The legal campaigning group has taken legal advice from a team led by a specialist King’s Counsel to monitor the effects and impacts of the voter ID rules on Thursday’s local elections and bring a case against the Government to challenge these rules before the next general election.
Executive Director of Good Law Project, Jo Maugham KC, said: “The voter ID rules are a really bad thing to happen in a democracy – a needless act of sabotage against the universality of the franchise.
“On the evidence, they cannot be explained otherwise than as an attempt to deny those likely to vote against the Government the ability to do so. They need to be challenged in court. And this is exactly what we plan to do.”
Byline Times last week revealed that watchdogs and civil society could be left in the dark over the true number of voters who are turned away for lacking photo ID in England’s upcoming local elections.
Thursday will see all voters told to bring photo ID or be turned away at the ballot box. Polling staff will have to record those who are turned away after speaking to them – but many more may turn away before going inside the polling station, after being reminded by ‘greeters’ or signs outside of the need for ID. These people will not be recorded.
Labour MP Clive Betts, Chair of Parliament’s Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee, has asked Electoral Commission boss John Pullinger for clarity around the data to be collected on the number of people who will be turned away for not presenting the necessary voter ID.
Betts is calling for the Electoral Commission to confirm that it will be collecting data on the number of individuals turned away outside of polling stations by meeter-greeters, as well as voters turned away when they reach the front desk.
A “significant number” of local authorities plan to use meeter-and-greeters stationed outside polling stations to support the implementation of voter ID.
But Betts’ fears have been brushed off in the House of Commons during an urgent question. He told Byline Times: “It’s a mess. The minister got in a complete tangle over it. This hasn’t been thought through. They won’t have any idea of the true numbers turned away. It will be duff data.”
Voters in the Dark
Awareness of the plans also appears to remain worryingly low. More than half of people – 52% – surveyed in an Omnisis poll commissioned by Byline Times last month said that they received no information from their local council about the new voter ID requirements, with little over a week to go before polling day. The figures have budged little in recent weeks, suggesting public information campaigns are struggling to cut through.
Nearly one in five (18%) of those surveyed by Omnisis said they were unaware of the new requirements, which will apply not just to local elections in England but all general elections, as well as police and crime commissioner votes in England and Wales.
The lack of awareness was highest in south-west England and Yorkshire & the Humber (both at 23% unaware). The findings tally with other pollsters’ findings in recent weeks.
A recent Local Government Information Unit panel heard concerns that observers “will not know the impact of voter ID, either in general or on specific minority groups until scientific research has taken place in the months after these elections” – or even after several electoral cycles, such as the next general election.
There are also fears that the number of people turned away at May’s local elections could provoke arguments in polling booths across England, with police being alerted to the risk of a spike in disputes and confrontations, as reported by the Guardian.
Labour refused to say whether it would repeal the ID requirements if in government, when asked by Byline Times last week.
The polling for Byline Times was conducted online by Omnisis in the two days up to 21 April. 1,318 GB adults took part in the poll, which was weighted to ensure it was representative of demographics such as gender, region, age group and voting intention
If you have a political or social story that needs telling, get in touch with Byline Times’ Chief Reporter Josiah Mortimer confidentially by emailing email@example.com.
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