Voters with sight loss are still denied by a broken system, says RNIB's report
Most voters with sight loss express frustration and humiliation with barriers preventing them voting independently and in secret.
Many voters with sight loss are still prevented from exercising their fundamental right to vote independently and in secret, our Turned Out 2022 report, which shares experiences of blind and partially sighted voters in the local elections of May 2022, says.
The report also explains the potential impact of changes introduced in the 2022 Elections Act.
Since 2015, blind and partially sighted people have shared their voting experiences with RNIB, and it is incredibly disappointing that there has been little progress in voting accessibility over the last seven years.
We have even heard of people being unable to vote entirely, or discouraged from ever voting again. One person told us:
Our findings come as the Elections Act is set to introduce changes to the way people vote in elections from 2023 onwards.
Electoral Commission guidance
The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections in the UK. Under the Elections Act, the Electoral Commission has responsibility for creating new guidance for Returning Officers to ensure people with sight loss are supported to vote independently and in secret. But the current draft of this new guidance fails to acknowledge the barriers faced by blind and partially sighted people, and fails to provide solutions to overcome them. We believe it must be significantly improved to be fit for purpose.
Until 16 January 2023, you can have your say on this draft guidance, by responding to the Electoral Commission’s consultation
The Elections Act also introduces a requirement for voters to bring photographic voter ID to vote in person at elections from May 2023 onwards. We are very concerned that this will make the electoral process even less accessible for blind and partially sighted voters.
Our research has found 13 per cent of blind and partially sighted people have no photographic ID at all, including travel passes. AThis equates to as many as 40,000 blind and partially sighted people who could now be unable to vote as they do not have the right form of ID.
The UK Government must ensure all voters are aware of the voter ID requirement, and that the application process for obtaining voter ID is accessible, particularly for those who are digitally excluded.
New year, same problems?
“When are we going to fix this? I have spent decades waiting to vote independently.” – Response to RNIB Turned Out 2022 report survey.
The practical act of voting continues to be a fundamentally visual exercise. The UK Government therefore has a responsibility to ensure there are alternative ways to participate for those who find the current system inaccessible.
Our survey findings:
- Only one in five (22 per cent) blind and partially sighted people reported that they could vote independently and in secret in 2022.
- Nearly half of voters with sight loss are dissatisfied with the electoral process.
- Just 15 per cent of blind people said they were able to read all of the information sent to them by their local council, including poll cards, and 49 per cent couldn’t read any of the information the council sent them.
- Of all our respondents who used a postal vote, 71 per cent needed assistance from another person, meaning they were unable to have an independent vote.
Accessible voting can and should be a reality
“Coming up with a simple system whereby disabled and blind people can vote confidently shouldn't be difficult in the Twenty First Century.” – Response to RNIB Turned Out 2022 report survey.
The changes to the accessibility measures introduced in the Elections Act could present an opportunity to make accessible voting a reality, but in the current context it is very hard to envisage voting experiences improving at the May 2023 elections.
While there need to be wholesale changes to the current system to improve voting experiences for blind and partially sighted people, these changes are not insurmountable. With the right support and equipment, it is possible for blind and partially sighted people to review and mark the ballot paper independently and in secret.
The need for improvements in the accessibility of elections is more urgent than ever. We are determined to make voting accessible for blind and partially sighted people, and we will continue to monitor voter experiences in the 2023 and beyond, and to speak up about the change that is needed.
Read more about the experiences of blind and partially sighted voters in 2022 and our detailed recommendations to make voting accessible.