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Election Fraud: How The Right Thrives On Lazy Islamophobic Tropes

Election Fraud: How The Right Thrives On Lazy Islamophobic Tropes

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday January 04 2023

On the day of the Government releasing its draft strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission, former Cabinet Minister Greg Clark accused the Electoral Commission of turning the cheek on voter fraud within minority communities out of fear of “woke sensibilities”. Indeed voter fraud has been central to the Government’s arguments for the Elections Act 2022, which brought about sweeping changes in the way we vote. Electorates will be required to bring ID when voting, furthermore, the Government will be directly involved in guiding the Electoral Commission through the introduction of a strategy and policy statement. Though this may, in appearance, seem to increase the integrity of elections, studies have found that the measure could lead to mass-scale disenfranchisement. Furthermore, Mr Clark’s comments, along with historic comments made by other Tory ministers, seem to propagate right-wing stereotypes around the issue of voter fraud. Not only are Mr Clark’s comments offensive, but they also promote the idea of voter fraud being endemic to South Asian communities.

In 2015, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve echoed racist rhetoric as he alluded to corruption being “endemic” within South Asian communities. Mr Grieve claimed there were growing concerns around voter fraud among ethnic minorities and that Lutfur Rahman’s removal as Mayor of Tower Hamlets should serve as a “wake-up call”. Mr Clark reinforced the idea of ‘family voting’, where heads of families who would often be male, coerce family members to vote in a particular direction. Not only are such comments deficient of concrete evidence, but voting trends within families have also been observed by scholars such as William A Glazer. In his research into families and voting turnout, he noted that families often vote as units due to various socio-economic factors such as social class, age amongst siblings, and general family consensus. Mr Clark went further to mention male members were allowed to enter voting booths alongside their wives, and would often instruct them on how to vote. Such claims are difficult to believe, given that it is a complete contravention of election law. The Electoral Commission’s guidance clearly states voters must go to polling booths individually unless “a voter is disabled or unable to read” and “has requested assistance to vote.” Furthermore, the Election Commission reported in 2019 that “the UK has low levels of proven electoral fraud. There remains no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud”. In 2019 alone, the conviction rate for election fraud was 0.5%, with only four convictions and two police cautions. Consequently, the evidence does not support claims of widespread, systematic fraud.

The mainstream narrative around voter fraud has almost exclusively been centred around minority communities, evidencing the 2004 case of fraud in Birmingham, and the mayoral elections in Tower Hamlets in 2014. The Electoral Commission has identified 16 local authorities with higher risks of election fraud, with some including areas with higher South Asian populations such as Birmingham and Tower Hamlets. The portrayal of minorities in relation to voter fraud is one where the issue is inherent within South Asian communities, and one where ‘Biraderi voting’, or kinship networks, is prominent. However, police evidence has found that those accused and convicted of election fraud come from diverse backgrounds, dispelling any attribution of ethnicity to election fraud. Furthermore, an Electoral Commission report into election fraud, stated that “It would be a mistake to suggest that electoral fraud only takes place within specific South Asian communities.” Not to say that such practices do not exist, but the evidence certainly suggests that the issue has been over-inflated. Though there are concerns around the vulnerability of South Asian communities to such practices, a proportionate response is needed, including concerns around election fraud in other communities, not simply within minority communities.

Election fraud is a grave issue, one punishable by imprisonment. The Electoral Commission should have the licence to go as far as possible to help prevent fraud. Regrettably, the Right often profits from such complex cultural debates, co-opting a concern around voter fraud simply to reinforce their Islamophobic tendencies. The voter fraud trope has been taken from the pages of the right-wing playbook on Islamophobia, adhering to Islamophobic stereotypes and inventing them as ‘fact’. For Muslims, this is all too familiar, the grooming gang trope is yet another example from the same book, where an Islamophobic myth entered the public domain as fact, facing little to no resistance. The term grooming gang instantly meant to many, gangs of Pakistani Muslim men sexually exploiting underage vulnerable white girls. Right-wing actors would be quick to conclude that perpetrators were of Muslim background, as well as persisting on the role of religion and race, creating the notion of a ‘Muslim problem’. However, a damning report by the Home Office published in 2020 concluded that beyond the specific high-profile cases, most offenders were white and that there was no credible evidence that any one ethnic group is over-represented in cases of child sex exploitation. The myth-busting evidence was conclusive, dismissing any notion of the role of religion or race. However, it seems that the Right is more concerned with perpetuating racist stereotypes than facts. Former Home Secretary Priti Patel controversially mentioned in the foreword of the report “This is disappointing because community and cultural factors are clearly relevant to understanding and tackling offending”, once more insisting on the role of race and religion in motivating such gruesome crimes. Ms Patel’s projection of her own prejudice undermines the facts established through the report. Her attempt to reinforce tropes exposes her own Islamophobic tendencies.

The harm of such tropes beyond their racist origins, is the obscuring of the facts, failing to address the real issues at hand. There have been countless examples where Muslims have been targeted simply from policies that have originated from the figment of the imagination of right-wing actors. Voter fraud is no different in this case. Elections should be both accessible and secure for the electorate, and any measure to help protect the integrity of voting should be endorsed so long as it does not impact its accessibility to ensure a greater turnout, nor should it come at the expense of vilifying Muslims and other minorities. However, in this case, Muslims have been scapegoated by right-wing actors who have continually used divisive tactics to shift any form of blame onto Muslims. MEND calls on such organisations, media outlets and politicians to pursue the truth rather than publish false stories, that lead to the stereotyping of Muslims, lest it leads to further harm.


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