Despite being nearly 150 years since the 1872 Ballot Act granted the right to a secret vote, many blind and partially sighted people still have to ask other people to help them to vote.
In 2021, RNIB research found that only 19 per cent of blind voters, and 46 per cent of partially sighted voters, felt they were able to vote independently and in secret. Less than a third of blind voters said they were satisfied with their voting experience in elections across the UK in 2021.
RNIB's 'Turned Out' report calls for the introduction of new methods of voting that will ensure people with sight loss can cast their ballot independently.
The standard aid currently in use is the Tactile Voting Device (TVD), a thin plastic template that is placed on a ballot paper to help locate where to vote for a preferred candidate. However, as it doesn't provide the names of the candidates, in practice most blind or partially sighted people need assistance to vote.
One alternative option under consideration by both the UK and Scottish Governments is an audio device that can be taken into the ballot box with a headset. This allows individuals to listen to the candidates’ names and cast their vote independently using the TVD, with no need for another person to be present. Trials have been run outwith elections in Scotland and further potential solutions continue to be explored.
In 2020, amendments to the Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill that RNIB Scotland lobbied for passed with support from all the parties represented in the Scottish Parliament. As a result, there will now be pilots run by the Scottish Government to develop an alternative method of voting which is accessible to blind or partially sighted people.
RNIB Scotland is currently working with the Scottish Government on their early stage development of a home-based online voting method which would produce a QR code to return to electoral authorities. The 2020 Act also requires the Electoral Commission in Scotland to publish reports on the accessibility of elections in Scotland, which is in its early stages and will be reviewed as to its effectiveness.
We are also concerned that some people with sight loss could be denied their vote if photographic voter IDs are introduced by the current UK Elections Bill. In a survey conducted by RNIB, 13 per cent of blind and partially sighted people across the UK (around 40,000 people) said they had no form of photo ID, including either passports or travel passes.
Responsibility for running Scottish Parliament elections, local government elections and referenda in Scotland lies with the Scottish Government. Responsibility for UK General elections and UK-wide referenda lies with Westminster.
If you have a voting experience you would like to share with us, you can contact us at: [email protected].