As of May 2023, the Elections Act 2022 has made it a requirement to present an accepted form of photo ID in order to vote in person. In order to raise awareness of such changes to voting regulations and to encourage the democratic participation of under-registered and underrepresented groups, especially Latin Americans, the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK (CLAUK) is running an awareness campaign in collaboration with the Greater London Authority.
CLAUK represents organisations such as IRMO, Latin American House, Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA), Latin Elephant and VOADES, uniting the Latin American community.
For the last decade, the presence of Latin Americans in London has been increasing at a faster pace than almost any other migrant group, making it more vital than ever to have representation in elections.
The new requirement to present an accepted photo Voter ID is in addition to the existing criteria for voter eligibility: namely, being over 18 years of age and having a passport from Great Britain, the European Union (EU), the Commonwealth or Ireland. In England, and thus in London, you can register to vote from the age of 16. An Electoral Commission report found that new legislation regarding Voter ID has disproportionately affected some groups, including the Latin American migrant community, with just 82% awareness among Black and minority ethnic communities compared to 93% among white respondents.
Latin Americans are especially vulnerable to disenfranchisement based on limited access to information and language barriers – one of many reasons why they are continuously under-represented when it comes to democratic participation.
You might lose the right if you have an EU passport
CLAUK have noticed that for onward Latin Americans (OLAs or EU-Latin Americans), there is a two-fold disenfranchisement.
Latin Americans are less likely to know about their right to vote in the first place, and in addition, EU citizens may not be aware of the risk that this right can be lost. CLAUK’s campaign is therefore encouraging Latin American migrants in general, but especially those with only an EU passport, to take advantage of this right: to register to vote and to obtain representation. While all eligible EU-Latin American Londoners will be able to vote in the 2 May 2024 Mayor of London and London Assembly elections, after that date some might not have this option.
With that in mind, CLAUK held a stall to raise awareness of these upcoming obstacles to civic participation at the Festival of Queer Literature in Spanish in November, hosted by Romancero Books.
The event platformed poets, authors and lecturers, presenting a range of up-and-coming literature, developing research topics and live podcasts that celebrate Queer arts amongst Spanish speakers.
This lively event with Romancero Books was one of many collaborations to spread the message regarding Voter ID and how to vote. Alongside many talented participants, on the Friday and Saturday of the festival, the CLAUK stall discussed people’s understanding of their voting rights, awareness of new legislation and offered help with voter registration for those eligible.
Shockingly, the most prominent reaction from attendees with dual EU-nationality was that they did not know that they may lose their right to vote following the May 2024 London elections, due to the voting system changes brought in by the Elections Act 2022 – as it may bring the requirement for an EU state to have negotiated an agreement with the UK allowing its citizens living in the country to vote, in return for the same right to British citizens abroad.
So far only Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and Spain have such agreements in place. EU citizens who were living in the UK before 1 January 2021 will still be able to vote and stand in elections.
How CLAUK can help you protect your right to vote
To combat some of the disenfranchisement Latin Americans experience due to language barriers and restricted access to information, CLAUK’s Democracy and Participation team offer a service to go through the registration process with you in community languages (Spanish and Portuguese), if you fill out their assistance form.
They also offer 1-2-1 assistance for anyone who requires support or would like impartial guidance through the process for voter registration, requesting a free Voter Authority Certificate (if you don’t have any form of accepted photo Voter ID), and to register for postal or proxy voting. Although knowing your National Insurance number is not essential, it can be helpful in the process.
For postal and proxy voting, voters are now required to complete extra verifications in the application process which is to be resubmitted every 3 years. It will now be necessary to provide your date of birth and signature upon registration, and limits have been introduced on the number of voters for whom someone can be a proxy.
Proxies can now only vote on behalf of 4 people, including a maximum of 2 UK-based voters.
Whilst obtaining representation and having your say as a member of society is extremely important for migrants, the benefits of voting do not end here. Migrants can use their registration on the electoral register to take part in the justice process if selected for jury service and it can act as a verification of your identity by credit checkers thereby improving your credit score.
Based on CLAUK’s participant survey, as of 23rd January 2024, the majority of participants in CLAUK’s campaign have been of mixed Latin American heritage, more than half have been women, 81% live in rental accommodation and 18% have a disability or are hearing-impaired. The overwhelming feedback has been that, as a result of the project, 91% feel they belong more to their neighbourhood and community, 88% to London and 85% feel they better understand the democratic system.
So far, the campaign has engaged over 400 people at in-person events and has registered over 50 people to vote, providing a QR code to register later for those who do not have time there and then. Only one in five Latin Americans we spoke to were registered to vote and of those who responded that they were not eligible, all of them said they would vote if they had the right.
For more information on upcoming events or regarding the campaign, visit @clauklondon on Facebook, Instagram, or X.
Supported by the Greater London Authority: City Hall, Kamal Chunchie Way, London E16 1ZE. Printed and promoted by Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK, Unit 9 Warwick House Overton Road London SW9 7JP.