Our campaign to protect legal provisions ensuring an independent vote for blind and partially sighted people continues, despite a group of MPs voting seven to ten against our proposals at Committee stage.
We are disappointed Minister Kemi Badenoch didn’t accept the arguments made, but it isn’t the end of the line.
We will continue to work with supportive MPs to bring the amendment back in November, as the Bill enters its next stage in the House of Commons when all MPs will have an opportunity to vote on it.
“If it’s not successful, we’ll then work with Peers to seek to make changes in the House of Lords. An independent vote is a fundamental part of our democracy and it’s essential this legal protection is maintained,” says Eleanor Thompson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at RNIB.
The Committee stage of the Elections Bill offered MPs the chance to go through the proposals line by line. They considered an amendment put forward by MP Patrick Grady and supported by RNIB. The amendment proposed maintaining existing legal wording that requires the Government to prescribe equipment to ensure blind and partially sighted people can vote independently.
Patrick Grady MP told the Committee:
“This amendment preserves and enhances current provisions and protections for blind and partially sighted people, while incorporating the Government’s new provisions for people with other disabilities to be fully supported in casting their vote.”
We agree that keeping the pre-existing legal requirements is essential. Our research shows that even with current arrangements, 91 per cent of blind people and 54 per cent of partially sighted people needed someone else to help them vote in the polling station in May 2021 elections.
This needs to improve, but removing the current legal requirements – as the Government proposes in the Elections Bill – will only make the problem worse.
The Government has described the pre-existing legal requirements as “needlessly prescriptive” and the Bill seeks to remove them. The Government insists the Elections Bill will widen access to voting, by allowing individual returning officers (local authority officers who oversee local elections) to decide on what constitutes “reasonable” provision to support an independent vote.
But Fleur Anderson MP made clear this could in fact result in blind and partially sighted people and other groups receiving very little support.
Cat Smith MP explained that removing the current legal protections would leave blind and partially sighted voters “with a postcode lottery”, leaving some without adequate systems in place to help them vote in secret and independently.
Brendan O’Hara MP concluded:
“Voting is a fundamentally visual exercise and the frustration and humiliation felt by blind and partially sighted people at their inability to vote independently and in secret is something that has been an open sore for many, many years.”
This was just one stage of the Bill and there is still plenty of time to get this change made. We’re much more likely to see this happen with your support.
Please email your MP to raise your concerns, using our online tool.