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Lutfur Rahman: His election as mayor of Tower Hamlets in London was declared invalid due to evidence of voting fraud

America is at war with itself over elections. The ongoing voting wars have an uncomfortable resemblance to the position in the Deep South before the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act in 1965. In those days, electoral officials — themselves predominantly white — administered biased rules designed to keep blacks off the voter rolls.

Ever since the US Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Bush v. Gore gave George W. Bush the presidency following a wafer-thin, dubious result in Florida in 2000, there has been a rash of new laws and a surge in electoral litigation. Republican state governments have passed laws to prevent voting fraud. But many Democrats claim these laws are designed to keep blacks and other disadvantaged or pro-Democrat groups from participating in elections. One common anti-voting fraud rule is the requirement by state governments that voters must supply a form of photo identification such as a driving licence when they vote.

These new regulations have been challenged in a rash of court cases in which the judges have split down party lines. When Indiana’s law requiring voters to show photographic identification at the polls came up for judicial review by the Supreme Court in 2008 in the case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, only Justice David Souter dissented from his fellow Republican appointees who declared themselves satisfied with the state’s photo ID requirements. Joined by two Democrat appointees, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, Souter claimed that the law worked to the disadvantage of “poor, old, and disabled voters” among whom a significant percentage were “likely to be deterred from voting”.

This conflict between a party of the Left, which has favoured lenient voting regulations, and a party of the Right, which has stressed the need for safeguards against voting fraud, has spread to other English-speaking democracies. In Canada, Stephen Harper’s Conservative administration has come under sustained criticism for enacting safeguards against voting fraud. Until 2014, Canada allowed both election day registration of electors and a system of “vouching”. This allowed an elector to declare that another elector (typically a spouse) who lacked the required identification was entitled to cast a ballot.

As shown by an official report, the system was hard to administer and led to frequent errors. However, opponents of the Fair Elections Act 2014 claimed that administrative problems at polling stations were to be distinguished from voting fraud. They accused the Conservatives of introducing regulations to make it harder for members of disadvantaged communities to vote. In particular, old people, inhabitants of aboriginal “First Nations” reservations, students and the homeless would be disadvantaged. The constitutionality of the 2014 law is currently under legal challenge and it almost certainly will be repealed by the newly elected Liberal Government.

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