The best electoral systems are the most inclusive. This government plan will lock out many legitimate voters
Last modified on Tue 11 May 2021 10.43 EDT
Last week millions of voters across Britain went to the ballot box in a bumper set of elections. But government plans to restrict access to the ballot box could mean that Thursday’s elections will have been among the last of their kind to be fair and free in the UK.
Proposals to introduce mandatory voter ID, as unveiled in today’s Queen’s speech, are a dangerous attack on our democratic rights that could lead to millions of legitimate voters being locked out of the polling station on election day. It is estimated that implementing the proposals could cost up to £20m per election, a hefty price tag for an unnecessary policy, and an expensive distraction from the real issues that affect our democracy and our country more widely.
On the face of it, requiring voters to show ID at polling stations may seem like a sensible policy. A necessary step, even, to ensure that those casting a vote have the right to do so. But while the government claims the potential for fraud is there, the evidence it exists is hard to find.
Widespread voter fraud at the ballot box would be easy to see. We’d find hundreds of people turning up to vote on polling day to find a ballot had already been cast in their name – yet few such claims exist.
Of the 595 alleged cases of electoral fraud investigated by the police in 2019 only 33 related to voter impersonation at a polling station – that is just 0.000057% of the over 58m votes cast in all the elections that took place that year.
Quite apart from the absence of any widespread voter impersonation, there are clear problems with forcing people to produce ID before they vote. According to official figures, 3.5 million people do not have access to photo ID in the UK and 11 million don’t have a passport or a driving licence. Unlike most countries where ID is required to vote, the UK has no free or low-cost ID option. In fact, in many of the countries used by the government as examples of successful voter-ID schemes, an ID is actually mandatory already, meaning everyone automatically has what they need to cast a ballot.
Many of the groups who are likely to be affected are already among society’s most marginalised. Earlier this year, three leading US civil rights groups criticised the UK government’s plans, highlighting how ID laws disproportionally affect people from poorer and marginalised communities.
It’s no wonder that opposition to voter ID has brought together a wide coalition, from homeless charities, groups representing elderly people and LGBT+ campaigners, to democracy organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society; each concerned that these proposals could shut out millions of legitimate voters from the ballot box.
Even senior conservatives are opposed to the proposals, with former Brexit secretary David Davis describing the plans as an “illiberal solution in pursuit of a nonexistent problem” and urging the government to drop its “pointless proposals”.
And Davis is right: this policy is a solution in search of a problem. Voting is safe and secure in the UK – the government has said so itself.
In March the Cabinet Office published a joint statement from the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments which declared “the United Kingdom is world-renowned for running elections of the highest standards in which voters can have full confidence.” A far cry from the Cabinet Office’s recent support for the proposals that they claim “combat the inexcusable potential for voter fraud in our current system.”
While the need for mandatory voter ID remains difficult to prove with genuine evidence, its potential pitfalls are far-reaching. Requiring photo ID introduces a new complexity to the voting process. Much like how the government’s coronavirus restrictions forced shopkeepers and hospitality staff to police mask-wearing and monitor group sizes, so too will these laws place polling staff’s judgment between voters and the ballot box.
These proposals would mean poll workers being forced to decide who gets a vote and who doesn’t. It could see many turning away legitimate voters from casting their ballots because their face shape has changed too much since their passport photo, or their new beard makes it hard to tell if it is in fact the same person as their driving licence shows.
It would place a huge burden on already strained electoral administrators to enforce these new laws and could result in lengthy delays and US-style lines outside polling stations as people are forced to queue for hours to cast their ballot – providing of course they have the right kind of ID.
Now it may still seem strange for a democracy organisation to oppose a policy such as this. But protecting voter access to the ballot box is vital in protecting our democracy too. More inclusive systems have better electoral integrity, and if the government wants to properly address the threats to our politics it must look beyond the ballot box.
The truth is that our democracy is under threat, but not from people wearing fancy dress or cunning disguises at the ballot box.
There remain dozens of loopholes in our electoral laws – loopholes that make our elections and voters themselves vulnerable to corporate donations, dark ads and disinformation, and the laws that govern our elections are woefully out of date. When it comes to electoral fraud, it is far more often campaigners and parties behind the breaches than the voters themselves.
It is disappointing that this Queen’s speech misses the opportunity to pledge real action on the glaring inadequacies of our electoral law, instead going after ordinary voters through their misguided mandatory voter ID plans.
Instead of suppressing the rights of ordinary voters, the government should focus on combating the real threats to our democratic system and bring forward proposals to ensure the integrity of our elections that we can all get behind.
Dr Jess Garland is director of policy and research, Electoral Reform Society
Sanders signals openness to adjusting SALT cap
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent in charge of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, signaled on Tuesday an openness to adjusting the cap on how much taxpayers can deduct in state and local taxes as he seeks to secure the support of nearly every Democrat in Congress for a multitrillion-dollar economic package.
Some congressional Democrats have warned that they may not support any changes to the tax code that do not also address that provision, put in place during the Trump administration, because of the impact on their constituents.
A draft budget document circulated by staff members on Capitol Hill and obtained by The New York Times included money to address the cap, which primarily increases the tax bills of higher-income residents of high-tax states like New York and California. The funding was not included in Mr. Biden’s original proposals and could amount to a partial repeal of the cap for some taxpayers.
“I have a problem with extremely wealthy people being able to get the complete deduction,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview, though he did not comment on specific details. “I think that’s an issue we’ll have to work on.”
Democrats have begun to move forward to pass some, if not all, of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda through the fast-track budget reconciliation process in order to bypass a Republican filibuster in the Senate. But the openness from Mr. Sanders underscored the breadth of compromises that rank-and-file lawmakers may have to accept to secure the necessary support of all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats and nearly every House Democrat.
Mr. Sanders, who has pushed for as much as $6 trillion in spending should bipartisan negotiations on a narrower infrastructure package collapse, said he had asked Democrats on his committee to outline their priorities as he moves to build consensus around an outline.
“OK, look, what do you think? What kind of numbers you’re comfortable with? And where would you like to cut back?” Mr. Sanders said as he described his approach. “We haven’t heard a lot about the cutting back.”
But he acknowledged the challenge in such maneuvers even as he pushes for various liberal priorities, including expanding Medicare benefits and eligibility and more spending. “We’re going to have to make sure that we end up with numbers that 50 members can agree on,” he said.
Mr. Sanders said he had not yet received a commitment from every senator for a $6 trillion package, even as he warned that a bipartisan infrastructure agreement would clear the Senate only with the promise that every Democrat would also support a reconciliation package.
“We’re going to have to work hard, and, you know, make some trade-offs, and so forth and so on,” he said. “I am more than willing to speak to every member and hear what they have to say.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, were expected to meet with White House officials Tuesday evening to discuss both bipartisan talks and the reconciliation process.
Among those expected to attend the meeting, according to an official familiar with the plans, were Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to Mr. Biden; Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; and Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser.
The meeting comes after a series of lengthy huddles on Tuesday between a bipartisan group of centrist senators and White House officials. Those talks, spearheaded by Senators Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, are expected to continue Wednesday.
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Asked about a statement from the Loyalist Communities Council saying Irish government ministers are no longer welcome in Northern Ireland, Lewis says that ministers from Ireland – and indeed from almost all other countries in the world – are welcome in Northern Ireland.
He says if anyone is threatening violence, that is not helpful.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, is giving evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee.
Simon Hoare (Con), the committee chair, opens the questioning.
Should I Hang Out With Someone Whose Political Views I Hate?
The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on whether it’s hypocritical for a liberal to socialize with an increasingly extreme conservative.
I am a liberal in a blue city in a red state. One of my friends is married to a man who has become increasingly conservative over the past year (an “anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-abortion, Democrats are all idiots and socialists are taking over the country” mind-set), and his posts on social media are becoming more and more extreme. We occasionally socialize as couples. When we are together, I am friendly with him, and we avoid overt political talk, but as his social media becomes more and more extreme, I feel conflicted about continuing to accept invitations to socialize with them. Is it hypocritical of me to socialize with them when I find his personal political views so abhorrent? Name Withheld.
When I was 15 and in Britain for school, I came to know a neighbor of my English grandmother’s. Then in his 60s, he was a right-wing member of Parliament whose views on the major issues of the day were utterly remote from mine. All the same, we enjoyed spending time together — when he took me trout fishing, it always involved more talk than trout — and though politics was far from the only thing we discussed, it wasn’t a topic we avoided. Once, when he drove me to visit the college he had attended (and that I would too, just as he hoped), I spent two full hours trying to persuade him to support an upcoming resolution to maintain the abolition of capital punishment for murder. We must have made an odd pair — a reactionary M.P. with the strapping build of the heavyweight boxing champion he was as an undergraduate; a willowy brown teenager who kept up with what was then known as The Peking Review. Still, as we whizzed past the hedgerows and incurious sheep of the Cotswolds, we carried on a vigorous debate over an issue we both cared a great deal about.
I do understand why people prefer to limit their socializing to people who share their view of the world and to steer clear of the maddeningly misguided. In recent years, certainly, America has reshaped itself in ways that accommodate the tendency. With the rise of “assortative mating,” bankers — to paint in broad strokes — no longer marry secretaries; they marry other bankers. Doctors no longer marry nurses; they marry other doctors. And so on, up and down the lines of income and class. (Although social scientists have argued that this trend has deepened economic inequality, it also reflects substantial and welcome gains in gender equality in the workplace.) More to the point, the United States has become politically sorted: Increasingly, your neighborhood will be predominantly red or blue, not mixed. If racial segregation has diminished somewhat over the past generation, partisan segregation has risen.
And so have partisan identities. Your friend’s husband, that is, has the political views of his tribe. These views, as with any tribal shibboleths, will often matter to him because they are signs of his membership. Maybe a few of his views were arrived at by careful reflection, but he probably couldn’t argue effectively for most of his opinions before an open-minded audience. The trouble is that the same is almost certainly true of you. You have the liberal tribal beliefs and commitments. And — as a substantial body of social-science research suggests — you probably did not acquire them by deep and thoughtful analysis, because you are like most of us. Identity precedes ideology: Who you are determines what you believe.
I’m happy to stipulate that your views are enlightened and his benighted. Still, it’s possible that you and this fellow are in one respect allied — that you are both committed, as citizens, to participating together in the governance of this battered republic of ours. Despite the forces that would keep us socially and even geographically isolated from one another, you each have a reason to try to understand the other tribe; to figure out what its members believe and (to the extent that there are arguments involved) why they believe it. Democracy falters not when we disagree about things but when we lose interest in trying to make sense of the other person’s point of view and in trying to persuade that person of the merits of our own.
If you took no pleasure in hanging out with this person, you wouldn’t be asking me whether you can go on doing so. And yet you write as if there are only two options here — tolerating his views in silence or cutting him off. Here’s a third option: Stick with this fellow but speak up for your politics. Encourage him to do the same. When we stop talking even to people we know and like because of political disagreements, we’ve abandoned the deliberative-democratic project of governing the republic together.
Not that we should delude ourselves about our prospects for shifting the other person’s shibboleths. At the end of that car trip, my burly interlocutor got out of the car, stretched his legs and told me, almost ruefully: “You may have won all the arguments today. I’m still voting against the resolution.” It passed anyway. And there were many other topics to discuss, from village gossip to high politics, the next time we went fishing.
My daughter is getting married in the backyard of her fiancé’s parents’ home. The wedding is outside under a tent, and more than 100 people are attending. We have informally been keeping track of who is vaccinated of those who have accepted the invitation.
Nearly all the guests are vaccinated, including the bride and groom. But not the hosts — her fiancé’s parents. They don’t believe in the vaccine; they said they haven’t gotten it yet, which to me is an untruthful way of saying they are not getting it. The vaccine is readily available in their area; they could waltz in today without a wait. They also don’t like wearing masks.
The area is fairly quiet now, as the year-round population is small. Most homes are owned by those who spend only the summer there, and it is still off-season. But when the crowds descend, it will probably be a riskier area from a Covid-19-exposure perspective.
If my daughter’s in-laws agreed to host the wedding in their backyard, shouldn’t they have agreed to be fully vaccinated in consideration for the guests, tent-rental people, caterers, photographers and others? Name Withheld
It makes a big difference that this event is being held outdoors. The C.D.C. tells us that fully vaccinated people can, sans masks, safely attend even a crowded event if it’s outdoors. That rule doesn’t apply to those with compromised immune systems, who will want to take personal protective measures, but I fear the incautious parents of the groom may be the ones at greatest risk. Yes, for reasons both prudential and public-minded, they should get themselves vaccinated, substantially reducing their chance of contracting and transmitting infection and of worrying the newlyweds if they do fall ill. For the sake of harmony between your two clans, though, you might want to express yourself on this matter in a tone of concern rather than judgment. Weddings, after all, arose to celebrate the union of families, not just individuals.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)
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Boris Johnson a pundit who stumbled into politics, says Cummings
Former aide says in Substack Q&A that No 10 is now ‘just a branch of the entertainment industry’
Last modified on Mon 21 Jun 2021 11.55 EDT
Downing Street under Boris Johnson is “a branch of the entertainment industry” and nothing will get done in terms of serious policy focus until he leaves, Dominic Cummings has said in his latest blast at his former boss.
In a question and answer session with paid subscribers to his Substack newsletter, Johnson’s former chief adviser described the prime minister as “a pundit who stumbled into politics and acts like that 99% of the time”.
Giving evidence to MPs last month, Cummings criticised Johnson as completely unfit to be prime minister, describing him as media obsessed and “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”.
On Monday, answering a question on the potential cybersecurity threat to the UK if another country develops human-level artificial general intelligence, or AGI, Cummings wrote that this would be huge, potentially giving those with AGI “the power to subdue everyone – and destroy us all”.
Cummings said that if he had stayed at No 10 – he was dismissed in November – he would have ordered a focus on the threat, but this would not happen under Johnson.
“NOTHING like this now will get serious focus in no10 – no10 now is just a branch of entertainment industry and will stay so til BJ gone, at earliest,” he wrote.
“The most valuable commodity in gvt is focus and the PM literally believes that focus is a menace to his freedom to do whatever he fancies today, hence why you see the opposite of focus now and will do til he goes …”
Earlier in the lengthy thread, Cummings was asked if he saw Johnson more as a hedgehog or fox, a reference to a celebrated Isaiah Berlin essay that categorised people into those who inhabit one central idea and those with a broader view.
He replied: “Neither, he’s a pundit who stumbled into politics and acts like that 99% of the time but 1% not – and that 1% is why pundits misunderstand him/underestimate him.”
Among a string of answers covering everything from his admiration for the 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck to lessons from the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, Cummings also talked about what he had learned from proximity to power.
He wrote: “When you watch the apex of power you feel like, ‘If this were broadcast, everyone would sell everything and head for the bunker in the hills’.
“It’s impossible to describe how horrific decision-making is at the apex of power and how few people watching it have any clue how bad it is or any sense of how to do it better, it’s generally the blind leading the blind with a few non-blind desperately shoving fingers in dykes and clutching their heads …”
Cummings found time to further insult Matt Hancock, having claimed during his evidence to MPs that the health secretary lied to colleagues amid the Covid pandemic, later releasing screenshots of a message in which Johnson called Hancock “totally hopeless”.
Asked by one reader about some statements made by Hancock about Covid, and whether these revealed a particular philosophical approach within government, Cummings said: “Hancock just says nonsense things all the time, I would not infer there is some complex moral reasoning going on!”
U.S. Outlines Plan to Send 55 Million Covid Vaccine Doses Overseas
“The Biden-Harris administration announced the distribution list for the remaining 55 million of the 80 million doses of America’s own vaccine supply President Biden has pledged to send out globally and allocate by the end of June in service of ending the pandemic. Already, we have sent millions of doses to the world, including 2.5 million doses that arrived in Taiwan this weekend and in addition, sharing doses — In addition to sharing doses from our own vaccine supply, the Biden-Harris administration is committed to working with U.S. manufacturers to produce more vaccine doses to share with the world. And we’ve purchased, as we announced last week, or the week before that, half a billion Pfizer doses to donate to 92 low- and middle-income countries, and members of the African Union.” “Is there any indication that the red tape in this distribution is costing lives at this point? Why is it taking so long?” “Well, first, let me say, we’re committed to allocating those doses. We’ve done exactly that. What we found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply. We have plenty of doses to share with the world, but this is a herculean logistical challenge, and we’ve seen that as we’ve begun to implement. So, you know, as we work with countries, we need to ensure that there’s safety and regulatory information shared. Some supply teams need needles, syringes and alcohol pads. Transportation teams need to ensure that there are proper temperature storage, prevent breakage and ensure the vaccine immediately clears customs. So this has not, as you all know, been done before. Sometimes it’s even language barriers that occur as we’re working to get these doses out to countries. So, we have announced today where these doses are going. We will continue to announce as they land on the ground and as they are being shipped. And we’re looking forward to doing that as quickly as possible.”
Sharon LaFraniere and
The White House outlined a plan on Monday to allocate 55 million doses of coronavirus vaccine around the world, the remainder of 80 million doses that President Biden pledged to send by the end of June to countries desperate for vaccine.
Mr. Biden has a week and a half to meet his deadline, a task made more difficult as the administration tries to change which manufacturers’ vaccines would be included in the 55 million portion. Production problems at an Emergent BioSolutions factory in Baltimore have forced the administration to revise its initial plan to rely heavily on AstraZeneca’s vaccine for that donation. The White House did not specify on Monday which vaccines it would be sharing, but people familiar with the operation have said the administration is working to swap shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for AstraZeneca’s.
The distribution formula closely followed the one that the White House announced earlier this month for the first 25 million doses in the president’s pledge. Three-fourths of the 55 million doses will go to Covax, an international vaccine sharing initiative that helps less wealthy nations. Of those, 14 million will go to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; 16 million will be distributed to nations across Asia; and 10 million will be sent to countries in Africa.
The remaining one-fourth will be spread among at least two dozen places to help address virus surges, including Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, Ukraine, Bosnia, South Africa, the West Bank and Gaza.
The donation of 80 million doses pales in comparison to the Biden administration’s plan, announced in early June, to share 500 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine within the next 12 months. But with many countries unable to vaccinate even a tiny percentage of their populations, global health officials are pressing the United States to move as quickly as possible to share its vaccine supply.
The gap in vaccination rates between rich and poor countries is stark. According to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, high or upper middle countries account for 86 percent of shots administered worldwide while low-income countries account for less than half of one percent.
The federal government has purchased far more vaccine than the nation can possibly use, and distributed more than states can promptly administer as the pool of people eager to get vaccinated dwindles. More than 60 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are sitting in storage in states across the nation, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House said it is still working through a variety of logistical and regulatory issues involved in shipping vaccine overseas, like safely transporting the doses and, at times, having to send related supplies, like syringes and alcohol pads, along with them. It said it will release which specific vaccines are being shared and in what amounts later.
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