Voters with a disability are being reminded by the Electoral Commission that there should be no barriers to them casting their vote at the General Election on 7 May.
Acting Returning Officers (AROs), who are responsible for the conduct of the poll, must ensure that the voting process is accessible to all. The Electoral Commission has provided guidance to AROs to help them meet their equality obligations and ensure that everyone who is entitled to cast their vote can do so. Polling station staff should also have received training on the assistance that is available to any voter wishing to vote in person at a polling station.
This year, in addition to the Commission’s own public information line (0333 103 1928), the first dedicated helpline for anyone with a learning disability who has questions about casting their vote, or experiences any difficulties in doing so, has been set up by Mencap, a partner of the Electoral Commission. The helpline is also available to the families and carers of people with learning disabilities and polling station staff. The helpline number is 020 7696 5588. In addition, the Commission has produced a joint factsheet with Mencap to remind voters of their rights.
Andrew Scallan, Director of Electoral Administration at the Electoral Commission, said:
“Anyone who’s eligible to vote on polling day should be able to do so in a confident manner. Polling station staff are trained to provide assistance to any voter who asks for it. If a voter has had a negative experience of casting their vote at a polling station in the past, I’d urge them to get in touch with their local Returning Officer in advance of polling day to ensure their needs will be met on 7 May.”
Vijay Patel, who has a learning disability, is an assistant for Mencap’s Me and My Vote project. He says:
“When it comes to voting, some people with a learning disability are told they can’t vote when they enter their local polling station. This is wrong. It doesn’t allow them to have their say. It is their right that they are allowed to vote and it’s discrimination if they are stopped from voting in the election.
“I think the helpline is a good idea. It will help people with a learning disability on election day – if they are turned away from a polling station, they can call us and we can make sure they can vote. I will be voting on election day and I hope people with a learning disability will be too.”
Voters can find the contact details for their local electoral services team at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.
Any voter with a disability is entitled to:
- The right to request assistance to mark the ballot paper. This could be asking the Presiding Officer at the polling station to mark the ballot paper for them; bringing a close family member who’s over 18 to help them vote; or bringing someone’s who eligible to vote at the election. For example, a support worker, as long as they are entitled to vote themselves.
- A tactile voting device. This is fixed onto the ballot paper so visually impaired people can mark their ballot paper in secret.
- See a large print version of the ballot paper for reference. This should be clearly displayed in the polling station and a copy can be given to a voter to take into the polling booth. But, a voter must still only mark their ballot paper.
- Assistance to gain access to the polling station. Returning Officers must consider accessibility requirements when planning for elections and polling stations are selected in consultation with local disability groups. If a voter can’t enter the polling station because of a physical disability, the Presiding Officer may take the ballot paper to the elector.
About The Electoral Commission
The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000). Find out more at electoralcommission.org.uk