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RNIB looks to the Lords to amend Elections Bill

Hopes for changes to the Elections Bill rest on the House of Lords as the bill completed its remaining stages in the House of Commons on 17 January.

A scenic view of Westminster bridge and the Houses of Parliament on a sunny day.

The bill covers a range of issues, from voter ID to the scrutiny of party donations, but RNIB is extremely concerned that the bill will also make it harder for blind and partially sighted people to vote independently and in secret.

There is still a long way to go before the bill becomes law, however. RNIB is already working with members of the House of Lords to reintroduce our amendment which would maintain legal protections for blind and partially sighted voters.

In Monday night’s debate, Marsha de Cordova MP reminded MPs that the bill, in its current form, will disenfranchise blind and partially sighted people by making voting at polling stations less accessible.

Opposition spokesperson Alex Norris MP said that a cross-party amendment signed by Labour, Conservative, SNP, Liberal Democrat, independent and Green MPs would maintain current provisions made for blind and partially sighted voters at polling stations.

Alex Norris, MP:

“As it stands, the bill could have the dangerous consequence of removing the fundamental principle that electoral staff must enable voters to vote without any need for assistance.”

Alex Norris, MP

Bambos Charalambous MP added that the bill could create a postcode lottery of support available to blind and partially sighted people, based on local officials deciding what they think is reasonable to provide.

Independent MP Margaret Ferrier added her support to the cross-party amendment:

"This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Ballot Act 1872, which gave citizens the right to vote independently and in secret. It is absolutely essential that any new legislation does not limit that right…"

Regrettably, the Government indicated that it would not support the amendment and with limited time for debate, no vote on it was called and the wording of the bill did not change.

RNIB will continue to campaign to increase the pressure on the Government to amend its own bill, so that blind and partially sighted voters can vote independently and in secret.