Government provisions for blind and partially sighted voters declared unlawful

A High Court judgement called the arrangements a “parody of the electoral process”

Ballot box
A blind woman has successfully challenged the Government’s current provisions for blind and partially sighted voters.

The judicial review was brought by 46-year-old Rachael Andrews from Norwich, who has myopic macular degeneration and has been registered blind since 2000.

Ms Andrews stated that current government arrangements do not allow her to vote independently and secretly at the polling station.

The judgement, which was made on Friday (3 May), will affect around 350,000 people in the UK who are blind or partially sighted.

Assistance required

The Government currently specifies the use of a Tactile Voting Device (TVD) to allow blind and partially sighted people to vote “without any need for assistance.”

A TVD is a sheet of transparent plastic that sits on top of the ballot paper. It has a number of flaps that correspond to where voters should mark an X next to a candidate’s name.

Ms Andrews successfully argued that TVDs do not allow for an independent voting process because assistance is required to help the voter read the names of the candidates and the order in which they appear on the ballot paper.

She also highlighted that the UK lags behind other countries who use systems such as audio voting booths and telephone voting to aid blind and partially sighted voters.

The High Court declared the Government’s current arrangements to be unlawful as TVDs do not allow blind and partially sighted people to vote without any need for assistance.

The judgement stated: “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 established under the rules.”

The same rights as everyone else

Speaking about the decision, Ms Andrews said: “The right to vote independently and in secret is fundamental to any democratic society and it is extremely frustrating that I have had to bring this legal challenge in order to force the Government to make suitable arrangements for blind voters.”

She added that the lack of accessibility in the current system discourages many blind people from voting and described TVDs as “not fit for purpose.”

“The Government now needs to accept today’s judgment and urgently take the necessary steps to allow blind voters such as myself to vote independently and in secret in future elections. There are many crucial issues facing this country and blind and partially sighted people have the same rights as everyone else to have their voices heard at election time,” Ms Andrews said.

During the review, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) provided a witness statement in support of the case and highlighted its research into the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted voters.

In its Turned Out 2017 report, the RNIB found that one in four blind and partially sighted voters felt the current system let them vote independently and in secret.

Public affairs manager at the RNIB, Richard Holmes, welcomed the decision. He said: “It is completely unacceptable that in 2019 blind and partially sighted people are still unable to vote without assistance from another person.”

“A total of 350,000 people registered blind or partially sighted in the UK now need a real commitment from Government that it will urgently take action to offer an alternative that will allow them to cast their vote in a truly independent and secret way in the next elections,” he concluded.

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