The right to vote independently, and in secret, is a cornerstone of our democracy. 

 

Yet our survey into the voting experiences of blind and partially sighted people in the 2019 general election has found thousands of blind and partially sighted people are still not able to access their right to vote independently. 

Image of a hand putting a ballot paper into a ballot box. Turned Out 2019 #AccessibleVoting.

This page summarizes some of the report’s main findings but you can also read the full Turned Out report.

Turned Out 2019 recommends that UK Government and local electoral services: 

  • Continue to work with RNIB’s User Experience team to find a solution to enable blind and partially sighted people to vote independently and in secret and roll it out in time for elections in 2021. 
  • Better publicise accessible voting options, and the support available within a polling station, both before polling day and in polling stations themselves so blind and partially sighted people know what support they can expect and request. 
  • Publish the names of candidates and their order on ballot papers online, and in local electoral offices, before elections so blind and partially sighted people can look up who they want to vote for and where they will be placed on the ballot paper. 
  • Ensure Presiding Officers and their staff are fully trained to understand sight loss, different sight conditions, and the various types of support they should be offering. 
  • Update local registers of blind and partially sighted people, collect information on preferred formats, and use them to send items like poll cards in formats that electors can read. 
  • Review and revise the postal voting system to make it accessible for blind and partially sighted people 

Voting independently and in secret 

The fundamental democratic right to vote in secret is still not available for many blind and partially sighted people. 

Just over one in 10 (13 per cent) blind voters, and less than half of partially sighted voters (44 per cent), said they could vote independently and in secret under the current voting system  

At the polling station, nearly two thirds (61 per cent) of blind people and a third (32 per cent) of partially sighted people had to get another person to help them to vote. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of blind voters who voted in a polling station had to rely on a member of staff to help them vote, essentially forcing them to share their vote with a stranger. 

Respondents described having to share their vote as “humiliating”, and explained that the system makes them choose between a private vote and knowing they had cast their vote correctly. 

I do not have confidence in the tactile voting device as a totally blind person. When going to the polling station, I ask a member of staff to fill in my ballot paper and I am resigned to the fact that I cannot vote in secret. To me, getting the right vote is more important than my privacy but I should not have to make this compromise.

Even more concerningly, there were examples of people who were not sure whether they had cast their vote for the right person 

“My helper disagrees with my vote and I have no way to be sure she voted as I wished…"

Accessible information about the vote 

Both political parties and electoral services are not reliably providing information in accessible formats. This was particularly pronounced with local electoral services, with more than half (53 per cent) of blind people reported being unable to read any information regarding the election sent to them by local councils, including poll cards. Anecdotally we have heard about individual voters being unaware their polling station has changed due to inaccessible poll cards, and turning up in the wrong place on the day.

I would like to see something change, so that I can read about the things which people are standing for and then vote myself. Something like an app or an independent site. I am not saying that is an easy answer but there is so much technology out there now would like to see something make the party information for accessible.

The report recommends that local authorities update local registers of blind and partially sighted people to include their communications preferences and send information about the elections in accessible formats. It also asks political parties to be more consistent in their provision of materials. 

Polling station staff training 

More needs to be done to improve training of polling station staff. Experiences suggest there is a lack of awareness of how to support a blind or partially sighted person to vote, and that good support can make all the difference. 

“Although not perfect, this was my best voting experience so far. The person who assisted me at the polling station was very helpful and did a good job. He had never assisted a visually impaired person with voting before. I hope the time will come when people with no (or limited) eyesight can vote totally independently!” 

“The officials didn’t know how to use the tactile/large print voting device. They told me it was in position and read the ballot paper when I felt the tactile device I immediately realised it had been placed incorrectly. Had I not realised this I would have accidentally spoiled my ballot and not voted at all! I had to show the official how it works and start again.” 

Satisfaction and adaptations used

Overall, the report found less than half (46 per cent) of blind and partially sighted people are satisfied with their experience of voting, with blind voters significantly less satisfied than partially sighted voters. 

As a member of the disabled community I have to work much harder to engage in the electoral process. My friends have leaflets through the door and information at every turn. I have to seek it out. Hunt for it in my format. Argue I deserve to be treated the same. This doesn't feel right when my voice is supposed to be equal to the next person.

The report found satisfaction rates were substantially better among those who used technology to cast their vote than those who had to share their vote with another person. While only 29 per cent of people who successfully voted in the polling station with assistance from another person were satisfied with the experience, satisfaction was almost double among those who used a magnifier or smartphone app, with 57 per cent satisfied with the experience. 

This indicates just how valuable being able to vote independently and in private is to blind and partially sighted voters, and how much better the experience could potentially be if everyone had access to the right adjustments. 

The future of voting 

We are working with the Cabinet Office to resolve some of these issues and have already carried out initial user testing to trial the use of an audio player alongside the tactile voting device to allow a blind or partially sighted person to listen to the options and cast a vote independently. Feedback is good so far and we have more workshops planned later this month. We have also recommended that the order of candidates on the ballot paper be published online in advance so someone who is blind or partially sighted can look up the person they are going to vote for in advance and work out which box they will need to mark. 

Our research also showed that knowing that you have made a mark can be a big concern for many blind and partially sighted people, so we are planning to investigate mark-making too. We also hope to work closely with the Electoral Commission on training for polling station staff. 

Read the full report 

How you can help 

A huge thank you to the 480 blind and partially sighted people who responded to our survey.  

You can help by joining the conversation about accessible voting on social media using the hashtag #AccessibleVoting, or sharing the report with family or friends.