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Protect, not weaken, the right to vote in secret, RNIB demands

Scottish MPs urged to re-think proposed legislation that could disadvantage voters with sight loss

A leading sight loss charity is urging MPs of all parties to re-think moves it warns could weaken the legal rights blind and partially sighted people have to vote secretly and independently.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is raising the alarm over a clause in the new Elections Bill, currently going through the Westminster Parliament.

Currently, every polling station by law must have aids to make voting possible 'without any assistance' for voters with sight loss. The Elections Bill proposes to drop this guarantee for UK-wide elections. Instead, what provision is in place would be up to local Returning Officers in each of the country's 650 constituencies.

James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, is insisting that Scottish MPs join others to block any moves that could mean people with sight loss might face a postcode lottery of provision.

"Blind and partially sighted people have the same right to be confident they have been able to vote for their preferred candidates as anyone else," Mr Adams emphasised. "There should be the same level of consistent support available in every polling station in the country."

At present, the main aid available on request at polling stations is a Tactile Voting Device, a thin transparent plastic template that fits over the ballot paper. Trials of audio devices have also taken place.

More than two million people across the UK are now living with sight loss. But a survey by RNIB found that only one in five reported being able to cast their ballot without the aid of anyone else at the last election.

Pressed by the charity, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove MP has said he will look again at what the Bill says. But Mr Adams is urging Scottish MPs of all parties to safeguard the rights of blind and partially sighted voters.

"This proposed measure takes us back, not forward, and we are asking our MPs to strike out this needless and regressive measure," he said "RNIB has been working with governments across the UK to improve the voting experience.

"No one should arrive at their local polling station and find they don't have access to support that is available elsewhere. We urge MPs in Scotland to protect the secret ballot."