RNIB briefed MPs about proposed changes to the law that would be introduced by the Elections Bill. Specifically, we are concerned about the removal of existing guarantees that blind and partially sighted people should be able to vote “without any assistance” using a device prescribed by the Government with the introduction of new wording, which instructs returning officers to provide such equipment “as is reasonable”.
In our view this weakens protections for blind and partially sighted voters and could theoretically lead to a postcode lottery of provision of adaptations in the polling station.
Bambos Charalambous, MP for Enfield Southgate, asked: “Does the Minister not consider that that measure actually weakens the provision that blind people have?”
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, reported that: “RNIB has expressed some concerns about the legislation”. This was followed up by Fleur Anderson, MP for Putney, as well as Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North.
As a result of these interventions, RNIB’s concerns over these changes to wording in the bill cannot escape the attention of the Minister for Voting, Chloe Smith MP. RNIB will be meeting again with Government officials next week to make the case for retaining existing voting protections for blind and partially sighted people.
The Elections Bill would also require voters to present photo identification at polling stations. RNIB’s research estimates this could create a new barrier to voting for 40,000 blind and partially sighted voters, who do not have any form of photo ID.
In her opening address, Minister Chloe Smith, announced the Government will introduce a free local voter card if voter identification is brought into legislation.
If introduced, RNIB will seek to work with the Minister to ensure the application process for a local voter card is fully accessible.
Cat Smith MP, Shadow Minister for Voting, raised her concerns about disenfranchisement if Voter ID is introduced.
In addition to MPs’ interventions during the debate, a number of MPs have also pledged to write to the Minister in support of RNIB’s campaign to change the wording of the draft Bill.
A committee of MPs will now consider the Elections Bill, before all MPs have a further opportunity to vote on it and any proposed amendments at its Third Reading later this autumn. It will then be considered by the House of Lords.
RNIB will be closely following the development of this draft legislation and working hard to prevent any weakening of existing protections for blind and partially sighted voters to vote independently and in secret.
Read more about our concerns with the text of the Bill