Arrangements for blind and partially sighted people to vote in secret are “a parody of the electoral process”, a high court judge has ruled in a decision that will force improvements to the system.
The legal challenge to the adaptation used at ballot boxes was brought by Rachael Andrews, 46, from Norwich, who has no sight in one eye and little sight in the other.
The tactile voting device (TVD) fits over the ballot paper to allow a user to mark an X in a particular place. Lawyers for Andrews argued that the system did not allow blind and partially sighted people to vote independently.
Either the official in charge of the polling station or a member of their close family has to read out the names of the candidates and the order in which they appear on the ballot paper. That information is not available on the TVD; there is therefore no way for a voter who is blind to know which flap on the TVD corresponds to which candidate without help.
Delivering judgment, Mr Justice Swift said that “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 concluded: “The present TVD does not enable blind voters to vote ‘without any need for assistance’ because it does not assist the blind voter when it comes to marking her vote against the candidate of her choice”. The names of candidates and their parties should be transcribed into “braille and/or raised lettering”, he suggested.
In a statement after the ruling, Andrews said she was “extremely pleased” with the decision and called on the government to “urgently take the necessary steps to allow blind voters such as myself to vote independently and in secret in future elections”.
Sean Humber, Andrews’ solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “The government’s far-fetched attempt to reduce the act of voting to simply marking a ballot paper, while conveniently ignoring the need for voters to also know who the candidates are and where they appear on the ballot paper, is an insult to blind and partially sighted voters, who should be able to exercise their voting rights in the same way as everyone else: secretly and independently.”
Technology already exists to enable blind people to vote independently and is used in other countries, he said.
Richard Holmes, the public affairs manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: “We welcome the judge’s decision to find in favour of Rachael and to state that the use of a tactile voting device in its current form does not enable blind and partially sighted people to vote independently and in secret. It is completely unacceptable that in 2019 blind and partially sighted people are still unable to vote without assistance from another person.
“For years, RNIB has consistently raised concerns about the tactile voting device not being fit for purpose. We have supported Rachael with this case, providing a witness statement and sharing our detailed research into access to elections.
“Blind or partially sighted [people] 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.”