The right to vote independently, and in secret, is a cornerstone of our Democracy. Yet nearly 150 years after the Ballot Act – which guaranteed the right to vote in secret – blind and partially sighted people still face unacceptable barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote.
Our survey into the voting experiences of blind and partially sighted people in the 2021 local election in England and national elections in Scotland and Wales has found that many are still not able to access their right to vote independently and in secret.
This page summarises the report’s main findings, but you can also read the full Turned Out report.
The fundamental democratic right to vote in secret is still not available for many blind and partially sighted people.
Just over one in five (19 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, nine out of 10 ( 91 per cent) blind people and five out of 10 (54 per cent) partially sighted people told us that they had to get another person to help them to vote in May 2021.
Respondents described having to share their vote as “frustrating” and explained that the system makes them choose between a private vote and knowing they had cast their vote correctly.
I cannot cast the vote independently and in secret. This is frustrating as I don’t want to share my political views with other people.
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 and 15 per cent of partially sighted people being unable to read any information regarding the election sent to them by their local council, which is the same proportion as in 2019. One respondent told us: "All the material I received was provided in standard print which is not good for me because I don’t have any sight."
The report recommends that local authorities should update local registers of blind and partially sighted people, and collect information on preferred formats, using them to send items like poll cards in formats voters can read.
Our survey found 54 per cent of blind and partially sighted people who were able to vote did so at a polling station. These voters reported experiences which suggest inconsistencies in staff training and levels of knowledge in how to support blind and partially sighted voters. Only two out of five (40 per cent) blind voters said that the support they received at the polling station was good, while a third (31 per cent) said the support they received was poor.
I went to the voting booth and was obviously struggling but no assistance was offered. Then I had to ask where the ballot box was. The staff member (who I told earlier about my sight) just waved his arm saying: “over there".
The current device used to make ballot papers accessible for blind and partially sighted voters – the Tactile Voting Device (TVD) – helps voters find the boxes on the ballot paper independently but does not include the names of the candidates.
That is why the audio solution trailled in Norfolk must be rolled out for the next elections, to ensure that blind or partially sighted voters can exercise their right, finally, to vote independently and in secret.
Rolling out the audio device widely is a step in the right direction but there is still much more that needs to be done to make the system fully accessible, such as introducing polling cards in people’s preferred formats and reviewing the postal voting system. We're keen to continue working with the Cabinet Office to make this happen so that future elections are accessible, and the process is truly equal for all.
Turned Out 2021 recommends that UK Government and local electoral services:
Roll out the audio player and TVD trialed in Norfolk to enable blind and partially sighted people to vote more independently, and in secret, by elections in 2022.
Publicise better accessible voting options, and the support available within a polling station before polling day and within polling stations on the day 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 (and in accessible formats), before elections so blind and partially sighted people can find who they want to vote for and where they will be placed on the ballot paper.
Work with RNIB to ensure Presiding Officers and their staff are fully trained on sight loss, different sight conditions, and the support they should offer.
Review and revise the postal voting system to make it accessible for blind and partially sighted people.
Local authorities should update local registers of blind and partially sighted people, collect information on preferred formats, using them to send items like poll cards in formats voters can read.
Imposing a photographic voter ID requirement risks further disenfranchising tens of thousands of blind and partially sighted people. If voter ID plans are to go ahead the Government must make sure poll cards are available in people’s preferred formats, and accept these, as well as photographic ID, as proof of eligibility to vote at the polling station.
Firstly, a huge thank you to the 626 blind and partially sighted people who filled in our voting survey. By sharing your experiences, we’ve been able to get a deeper understanding of how widespread these challenges are.
You can now help spread awareness of the report and its findings by sharing your experiences of voting using the hashtag #AccessibleVoting on social media.
Read the full report and please do talk about it with your friends. The more we can increase understanding of how much the system needs to change, the sooner the Cabinet Office may be persuaded to implement the solutions that now exist.