New research finds 90% of blind people unable to vote independently
· Charity research 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
· Less than half (46 per cent) of blind and partially sighted people are satisfied with their experience of voting
· RNIB says changes need to happen now so blind and partially sighted people can vote independently in the Senedd Cymru elections in 2021
Most blind and partially sighted people in the UK are still unable to vote independently or in secret, according to figures released by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) today.
The charity found that only one in 10 blind voters (13 per cent) and less than half of partially sighted voters (44 per cent) said that they were able to vote independently and in private in the 2019 General Election. A further two thirds (61 per cent) of blind people and a third (32 per cent) of partially sighted people had to get another person to help them to vote.
As well as uncovering problems with casting a vote, RNIB’s research also highlights issues with the accessibility of voting information. More than half (53 per cent) 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 the local council, such as polling cards.
RNIB Cymru Director Ansley Workman said: “Despite ten years since the Equality Act and twenty-five years since the Disability Discrimination Act, blind and partially sighted people are still not able to exercise our fundamental human right to have our say on how our country is governed independently and in secret.
“It's simply not acceptable that people can leave their polling station unsure whether they've correctly voted for the candidate of their choice or feel obliged to ask someone else for help. We want the next Welsh Government to urgently explore alternatives such as secure digital options, especially in the run up to the Senedd 2021 elections.”
The current device used to make ballot papers accessible for blind and partially sighted voters – the Tactile Voting Device (TVD)* – was declared unlawful in May 2019 in a case brought by campaigner Rachael Andrews and law firm Leigh Day. 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”, saying 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".
Ansley Workman continued: “Resolving this situation has taken far too long. RNIB has been working with the Cabinet Office to make voting in polling stations more accessible, which looks promising, and we will continue to work with the Welsh Government and push for change in Wales. We’re hopeful that the prospect of independent voting for blind and partially sighted people is now imminent.”
Craig Westwood, Director of Communications, Policy and Research at the Electoral Commission, said: “The Turned Out report is important in understanding the voting experience 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. 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 to vote independently and confidently.”