MPs hear how blind and partially sighted people still cannot vote in secret
More than 30 MPs recently joined RNIB to share the experiences blind and partially sighted people have of inaccessible voting. They also heard a solution now exists which urgently needs to be rolled out.
The MPs attended online briefing events marking the launch of our Turned Out 2021 report, which sets out our latest research on voters’ experiences in the May 2021 national and local elections in England, Wales and Scotland. It also describes how RNIB worked with the Cabinet Office to trial an audio player which has been shown to improve voters’ experiences of voting independently.
Campaigner Rachael Andrews told MPs about her successful legal challenge in 2019, which resulted in Justice Swift declaring that the existing provisions were unlawful and “a parody of the electoral process”. Rachael explained that “despite having the TVD [Tactile Voting Device] available every time I’ve been to vote, I have not been able to vote independently and secretly.”
Visually impaired voter Bernie Reddington said she had previously felt pressured into voting the same way as people around her, because she was dependent on their assistance.
MPs also heard from voter Joy Croft. She said:
When the TVD was introduced, I thought now I'll be able to vote independently. But this was not the case, I could not vote independently, and certainly not in secret!
All three speakers were among the blind and partially sighted voters who were part of a trial held for May’s local elections in Norfolk where an audio player was provided alongside a TVD. This significantly improved voter experiences. As Bernie explained: “I felt completely liberated by that experience. This needs to be implemented as soon as possible.”
At each of the events, RNIB’s Policy Lead on Accessibility Michael Wordingham, demonstrated how the audio player works and he emphasised the need for the Cabinet Office to roll out the new device for use nationwide.
While Cabinet Minister Chloe Smith could not attend the events in person, she sent her response which was shared. Welcoming the report, she said: “The Government is committed to ensuring the accessibility of elections for all those eligible to vote and it is integral to our democracy that everybody is able to make their voice heard.” She detailed specific steps being taken, but acknowledged: "We have further to go to ensure everyone is confident in their voting experience.”
Keith Valentine, RNIB’s Director of External Affairs, concluded each event by reminding MPs that nearly 150 years after the Ballot Act – which guarantees the right to vote in secret – blind and partially sighted people still face unacceptable barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote. He said:
"Our vote is as important as anyone else's."
Many MPs are now planning to table parliamentary questions and to write to the Cabinet Office Minister and to their local authorities, to urge specific actions are taken to roll out the audio players nationwide and to train all polling staff to support accessible voting.