The right to vote independently, and in secret, is a cornerstone of our democracy. Yet blind and partially sighted people continue to face unacceptable barriers.
As a result of the RNIB’s ‘Blind Voters Count’ campaign and the tireless work of Conservative peer Lord Holmes, the Government backed changes that strengthened the legislative wording of the Elections Act. It also introduced new responsibilities for the Electoral Commission, including one to create guidance for Returning Officers on their requirement to deliver an independent and secret vote for voters with sight loss and other disabled voters.
Eleanor Thompson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said: “Following the publication of new draft Electoral Commission accessibility guidance for Returning Officers, we’re seriously concerned that it’s not fit for purpose when it comes to making the voting experience accessible for people with sight loss.
“The proposed guidance fails to address the fundamental barriers that blind and partially sighted people face at the polling station when it comes to accessibility. It doesn’t provide clear advice on what equipment would facilitate a private vote, nor information about how to support blind and partially sighted voters in the polling station, nor advice on how to reach blind and partially sighted voters using their preferred formats like braille or large print before the election. How can Returning Officers enable an independent and secret vote if the very guidance written to support them fails to recognise the barriers blind and partially sighted people face?
“Additionally, there’s no acknowledgement that the Tactile Voting Device, a plastic template that can be placed over the ballot paper to help voters with sight loss locate the voting boxes, doesn’t create an accessible voting experience on its own.
“The successful implementation of the Elections Act is dependent on the quality of the Electoral Commission’s guidance. It’s vital that the experiences and needs of people with sight loss are taken into account. Given the visual nature of voting, blind and partially sighted people face a unique set of challenges.
“We urgently call on the Electoral Commission to take stock of our concerns, rethink its approach and work with us to improve its guidance as a matter of urgency, so that all blind and partially sighted people can exercise their right to voting independently and in secret.”