Suffrage: Right or Privilege?

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Article 3 of the Human Rights Act (1998) enforces our right to a ‘free election’. It sets out clear criteria of what makes an election ‘free’. One of those criteria is to ensure that everyone can take part, whether that be as a candidate or a voter. One might also argue that the right to universal suffrage is covered under other basic entitlements set out in the Human Rights Act, with some examples including Freedom of Assembly (Article 10) and Freedom of Speech (Article 11). Evidently, there is a clear and constantly reinforced precedent which suggests that each and every person has a right to vote. The Human Rights Act certainly has no mention of voting being a ‘privilege’, so why is it a notion that is still questioned today?

Consequently, with this legally-binding history around voting rights, it is both puzzling and deeply troubling that we live in a society where suffrage is treated as a privilege rather than a right. At least, that is something we can assume to be the case if recent events and evidence is anything to go by. Not only are voting rights of certain groups (such as those incarcerated) regularly debated, but this supposed fundamental right is downright denied to other groups.

Credit: Frances Rose

For example, in the run-up to the most recent General Election, the debate has once again ignited around the voting rights of 16-year-olds and EU nationals. Although an amendment was put forward to allow these two groups to vote in the 2019 General Election Bill, it wasn’t selected following Boris Johnson’s threats that he would cancel the election. Although he gave a convoluted response related to timings as a reason for this, it is strange that it took until now for people to notice how these two groups were isolated from a supposedly ‘universal’ human right. What makes them different to everyone else? Why are they not worthy of the vote?

Furthermore, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that, for whatever reason, action is being taken by the state to repress the student vote. In an investigation conducted by The Times in September, Boris Johnson’s aides privately admitted that an October election date was tactically chosen in order to restrict student turnout. Although they aren’t denying students the right to vote, this is an attempt to interfere with that right and restrict them from practising it.

Now, I am no Government official and am certainly no lawyer, but it logically follows that if one’s right to vote is denied or interfered with, then surely they are in violation of Articles 13, 11 and 10 of the Human Rights Act. The simple fact is that the state, in doing this, is breaking the law. Yet, I see no outcry, no consequences and no attempt to fight this. The simple fact is that by doing this, the Government are breaking the law. So where are those ever-fabled checks and balances? Does the law not apply to those in power?

The reason why it is so important for us to stand up and raise awareness of this malpractice is that it takes all of us down a dark and dangerous road that has severe implications on our freedom and liberty. Of course, you might think that there are reasonable explanations behind these restrictions and repressions that make it not a legal violation. Or, you might that since you are fortunate enough to have this right to vote, it doesn’t matter. But look at it this way – without universal suffrage, we are all at risk of losing this vital human right.

If they can restrict or refuse the vote for certain groups now, what makes you think they won’t restrict yours later? If the place we call home doesn’t fight for our basic human rights, who will? It shouldn’t have to, but if we can’t rely on our Government, it comes down to us. We need to act now and hold them to account. Our future depends on it.

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Wessex Scene Editor // meme queen // fan of chocolate digestives // @colombochar on Twitter.

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