Despite a legal victory finding current accessibility provisions unlawful in May 2019, only one in 10 blind voters (13 per cent) and less than half of partially sighted voters (44 per cent) were able to vote independently, and in private, in the 2019 General Election. This research can be found in a new RNIB report Turned Out.
One voter told us:
The voting booth was right beside the queue for the check in desk; it wasn’t closed off and I had to verbalise my choice to my partner. When telling her which candidate I wanted, a person, waiting in the queue beside the booth, audibly sighed. I don’t feel I get privacy in my vote.
Now we’re calling on the Government to make urgent changes to the voting system to make it accessible. This includes rolling out new support in polling stations, providing information like poll cards in accessible formats and improving training for polling station staff.
RNIB is also working with the Cabinet Office to test an audio solution which would enable blind and partially sighted voters who need it to listen to candidate lists independently in the polling station. Read the full report.
Eleanor Southwood, Chair of Trustees at RNIB, said despite numerous steps forward in disability rights “we are still not able to exercise our fundamental human right to have our say on how our country is governed independently and in secret.”
Craig Westwood, Director of Communications, Policy and Research at the Electoral Commission, added: “The Turned Out report is important in understanding the voting experience of blind and partially sighted voters.
Everyone, no matter their circumstances, should be able to take part in elections and cast their vote with confidence; but we know that some blind and partially sighted people still face barriers to voting. Ahead of the May 2021 elections, we are working with partners, including RNIB, to ensure that all voters are aware of the resources and support available to allow them vote independently and confidently.
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. Mr. Justice Swift found current provisions unlawful in May 2019, saying “enabling a blind voter to mark ballot papers without being able to know which candidate she is voting for is a parody of the electoral process”.
RNIB has been working with the Cabinet Office to find a way to make voting in a polling station more accessible, with further testing due to happen later this month [October 2020]. User experience experts will assess whether an audio device with headphones could be taken into the ballot box and used, with the TVD, to listen to the candidates’ names and cast a vote in the right place without the need for another person to be present. The Charity and the Cabinet Office are hopeful that if this is proven accessible, it will be rolled out to 40,000 polling stations in time for local elections in 2021.
Eleanor Southwood continued: “Resolving this situation has taken far too long. We have been working with the Cabinet Office, which looks promising. We’re hopeful that the prospect of independent voting for blind and partially sighted people is now imminent.
Rolling out the audio device widely is definitely a step in the right direction. 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 are 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.
The report recommends that local and national electoral services:
Firstly, a huge thank you to the 480 blind and partially sighted people who filled in our voting survey after last year’s General Election. By sharing your experiences, we’ve been able to get a deeper understanding of how widespread these challenges are.
You can 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 more priority this issue will be given by politicians.