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#BlindVotersCount campaign update

RNIB and Surrey County Cricket Club deliver a petition to Michael Gove, pictured is 7 adults holding signs saying "It's just not cricket" and "We vote for an independent and secret vote"

RNIB and Surrey County Cricket Club deliver a petition to Michael Gove

With the help of Surrey VI County Cricket Club, we delivered our #BlindVotersCount petition to Michael Gove.

More than 7,000 people have signed our petition calling on the  Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities not to take away the guarantee of a vote ‘without assistance’ for blind and partially sighted people.

RNIB has been extremely concerned that the original wording in the Elections Bill, published last summer, would water down the legal protections and make it more difficult for people with sight loss to vote independently and in secret.

Changes to the Bill

Last week the Government backed changes to the Bill put forward in the House of Lords by Lord Holmes of Richmond which means that the importance of ensuring a ‘secret’ vote and the ability to vote ‘independently’ have been recognised. 

The changes also impose new statutory duties on the Electoral Commission :

  • To draw up new guidance to support an independent and secret vote at the polling station from 2023.
  • To consult relevant organisations in the production of that guidance. 
  • To hold Returning Officers to account for following that guidance.

We want to thank Lord Holmes for his tireless work and for playing an instrumental role in this signficant step forwards. 

At Report Stage, Lord Holmes said:

I set out three pillars that blind and partially sighted people—indeed, all people—should be able to expect when voting: to be able to vote inclusively, independently and in secret… they are the key pillars anyone should be able to rely on when exercising the most essential and fundamental right in our democracy.

The Bill is now expected to become law in the next three weeks in England. We will share the impact of the Bill on voting in Wales, Scotland and NI when this becomes clearer.

While we are pleased that the Government accepted these amendments there is still work to do to guarantee an independent and secret vote for all. We look forward to working with the Electoral Commission and others to achieve this.

The key question

Will blind and partially sighted voters have a more positive experience at the polling station as a result of these amendments to the Election Bill? It’s too early to say, and we will be monitoring the situation closely.

What we can say is that the changes that have now been accepted by the Government are a sign of the impact of the #BlindVotersCount campaign. We know this simply wouldn’t have happened without the grave concerns that RNIB’s supporters have raised over many months.

Thank you to everyone who took part in this campaign, signed our petition, lobbied their MP or emailed a Lord.

Next steps 

  • We will work closely with the Electoral Commission, drawing on the commitments and assurances that have been made by the Government to maximise our influence on the contents of the guidance to be created.
  • You can keep sharing your experiences of voting with us.We will be monitoring experiences at the ballot box, including this May, through a survey of our email list.
  • We will press the Government to hold further trials of innovations to enable accessible voting.

There is plenty for us to do to make voting independently and in secret a reality for blind and partially sighted people.  Together, we make a difference.