UK High Court finds voting device unlawful for failing to allow people with visual impairment vote in secret

The UK High Court has found the current voting device provided for people with visual impairment unlawful for failing to allow blind and partially sighted people to vote without any need for assistance.

This case was taken by a Rachael Andrews who has been registered as blind since 2000 due to myopic macular degeneration. Ms Andrews claimed that the Government had failed to make suitable arrangements to allow her to vote independently and in secret. The Representation of the People Act 1983 requires the Government to allow people who are visually impaired to vote “without any need for assistance”, but does not prescribe the device to be used in the polling station. In the UK, a Tactile Voting Device (TVD) is used which is a transparent plastic overlay with tabs that indicate where to mark the ballot paper.

Ms Andrews argued that there were a number of shortcomings with the TVD as there was no way for her as a partially sighted voter to know the name of the candidate or the name of the party the candidate represented. The device only allowed a blind person to vote without assistance if they memorised the order of candidates on the ballot paper. Ms Andrews stated that this effectively denied her the opportunity to vote independently. Ms Andrews pointed to other countries where systems are in place such as telephone voting or audio voting booths.

The Court rejected the contention of the Government that to vote was to simply mark the ballot paper. Justice Swift held that, “A device that does no more than enable blind voters to identify where on a ballot paper the cross can be marked, without being able to distinguish between one candidate from another, does not in any realistic sense enable that person to vote.  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 Court found the current arrangements to be unlawful as TVDs did not allow blind and partially sighted people to vote without any need for assistance. The Judge opined that at the very least the TDVs needed to be updated to include the name of each candidate and their party in raised lettering or Braille, or both.

The ruling will affect about 350,000 people in the UK who are registered as blind or partially sighted.

Click here for the decision in R (on the application of Rachel Andrews v Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Click here for the 2017 decision of the Irish High Court on the right to a secret ballot in Ireland.




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