The Turned Out report by the charity RNIB shows just one in 10 blind voters and less than half of partially sighted voters could vote independently and in secret in the last General Election.
According to figures released by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) today (13 October), the majority of blind people in the UK are still unable to vote independently or in secret.
Eleanor Southwood, chair of trustees at RNIB, says: “Despite ten years since the Equality Act and twenty-five years since the Disability Discrimination Act, we are still not able to exercise our fundamental human right to have our say on how our country is governed independently and in secret.”
The charity found two thirds of blind people and a third of partially sighted people had to get another person to help them to vote.
Mark Griffiths, who is from West Yorkshire, was registered blind not long before the General Election in December 2019 and was fully reliant on his partner taking him to the polling station and voting for him.
“My independent vote has been lost as I have to rely on someone voting for me,” reveals Mark. “Should changes not be made before the next elections, I would be reluctant to vote due to there being no option for me to do so without the assistance of someone else.
“In December’s General Elections, I was completely reliant on my partner voting on my behalf. Whilst she joked that she was going to choose an alternative party, if I’d relied on someone else, this could well have been the case.”
Along with uncovering problems with casting a vote, RNIB’s research also highlights issues with the accessibility of voting information. More than half of blind people and 15 per cent of partially sighted people reported that they couldn’t read any of the voting information sent to them by their local council, such as polling cards.
The current device used to make ballot papers accessible for bling and partially sighted voters, the Tactile Voting Device (TVD), was declared unlawful in May 2019 in a case brought by campaigner Rachael Andrews.
In the judgement, Mr Justice Swift said: “Enabling a blind voter to mark ballot papers without being able to know which candidate she is voting for is a parody of the electoral process.” He also noted that to meet legal obligations a device “must allow the blind voter to mark the ballot paper against the name of her candidate of choice…without any need for assistance.”
Despite Rachael’s efforts, she says there is still a long way to go to make voting accessible.
“I was delighted to have won a ruling in 2019 that ruled tactile voting devices as unlawful due to them not allowing people with sight loss to vote independently, or in secret,” emphasises Rachael.
“I know from my own experiences, and from hearing from others who are living with a visual impairment, how challenging it can be to cast your vote independently, something which should be equally available to everyone.”
RNIB has been working with the Cabinet Office to find a way to make voting in a polling station more accessible, with further testing due to happen next week.
Craig Westwood, director of communications, policy and research at the Electoral Commission, highlights that the report is important in understanding the voting experiencing of blind and partially sighted voters.
“Everyone, no matter their circumstances, should be able to take part in elections and cast their vote with confidence; but we know that some blind and partially sighted people still face barriers to voting,” admits Craig.
“Ahead of the May 2021 elections, we are working with partners including the RNIB to ensure that all voters are aware of the resources and support available to allow them vote independently and confidently.”
User experience experts will assess whether an audio device with headphones could be taken into the ballot box and used with the TVD to listen to candidates’ names and cast a vote in the right place with no need for another person to be present.
“Rolling out the audio device widely is definitely a step in the right direction,” stresses Eleanor.
“There is still much more that needs to be done to make the system fully accessible, such as introducing polling cards in people’s preferred formats and reviewing the postal voting system.”
“We are keen to continue working with the Cabinet Office to make this happen so that future elections are accessible, and the process is truly equal for all.”
The charity and the Cabinet Office are hopeful that if this is proven accessible, it will be rolled out to 40,000 polling stations in time for local elections in 2021.