A second reading of proposed changes to the Elections Bill is taking place on 23 February in the House of Lords. The current voting system is imperfect, with barriers to the independence and secrecy of blind and partially sighted voters. However, currently polling stations are at least required to provide resources such as tactical voting devices and large print ballot papers. The Elections Bill will do away with this requirement, a change which will undoubtedly act as a deterrent to participation in our democracy for visually impaired voters.
What the Election Bill looks like now
Currently the Representation of the People Act 1983 says:
(3A) The returning officer shall also provide each polling station with-
(a) at least one large version of the ballot paper which shall be displayed inside the polling station for the assistance of voters who are partially-sighted; and
(b) a device of such description as may be prescribed for enabling voters who are blind or partially-sighted to vote without any need for assistance from the presiding officer or any companion
What the new wording could look like
The Elections Bill replaces sub-paragraph (b) with:
(b) such equipment as it is reasonable to provide for the purposes of enabling, or making it easier for, relevant persons to vote in the manner directed by rule 37.
The proposed changes could result in:
• A postcode lottery of provision as it will be up to the Returning Officer of each polling station to decide what to provide.
• Uncertainty and anxiety amongst blind and partially sighted voters who won’t know what to expect at polling stations or what they are entitled to.
• The loss of the right to independence and secrecy during voting (as stipulated in the Ballot Act).
RNIB have today launched a campaign to help protect blind and partially sighted people’s right to an independent and secret vote. Have your say by adding your name to the petition here. You can read a full summary of RNIB’s policy briefing here (Word document).
“Should the proposed wording in the Elections Bill be passed we will take a backwards step in terms of the ability of visually impaired people to vote privately and independently. This is extremely concerning and will impact the right of blind and partially sighted people to have a a voice, to have a say in the leadership of local and national government, to be equal members of our society.” Olivia Curno, Chief Executive of Vision Foundation.
“As a person who is registered severely site impaired, I regularly encounter many barriers and hurdles in life, be them physical or metaphorical. One of the assurances of existing legislation regarding my right to vote, is an acceptance that certain basic, and easy to achieve, requirements need to be put in place in order for me to vote. The proposed amendments to the Elections Bill weaken these requirements, and will lead to a postcode lottery regarding what is done in each voting office, and will lead to me feeling more marginalised and excluded, and being prevented from having a voice in elections, which is a fundamental human right.” Charmaine Ashpole
“For me as a totally blind person, it’s really important to have the opportunity to vote independently. Not only is this about freedom of speech and my right to participate in democracy, but it’s also unfair that I should have to put my trust in somebody else to do it for me. It’s also not fair on them to have that responsibility.” Kerry Firth
Please join RNIB and Vision Foundation in putting a stop to these proposed changes. You can help by signing the petition and sharing these messages on your social media channels.
Template Twitter post
Only 1 in 5 #Blind people can vote in secret
Despite this, the explicit right of #Blind and #PartiallySighted people to vote ‘without any assistance’ is about to be removed from law.
If you believe #BlindVotersCount, sign @RNIB’s petition: rnib.in/EBbvcSec
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Would you trust a stranger to vote on your behalf?
150 years after the right to vote in secret was enshrined in law, many blind and partially sighted people still have to share their vote with someone they don’t know.
And now the Elections Bill, a proposed law going through Parliament, would take away the guarantee of a vote “without any assistance” for voters with sight loss. It’s crucial we stop this.
Vision Foundation is supporting RNIB’s new petition asking Michael Gove to step up and retain the existing legal guarantees of a secret and independent vote for blind and partially sighted people.
If you believe #BlindVotersCount, add your name to the petition and share it widely with family and friends. Our campaigning works and together we can campaign for our right to a democratic secret vote.
Add your name now: rnib.in/EBbvcSec