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Elections for everyone – voters with a disability want change

Published: 9 Nov 2017

New evidence collected by the Electoral Commission, which includes the testimonials of voters with learning and physical disabilities as well as people living with mental illness, highlights that whilst most are happy with registering to vote and voting at the UK parliamentary general election, not all voters with disabilities had a good experience and some reported being left unable to cast their vote. The Commission heard that some people with a disability were unaware they could bring someone with them to the polling station to help them or that polling station staff could assist.

The Commission’s ‘Elections for everyone’ report will be submitted as its response to the Minister for the Constitution’s call for evidence asking for views on how people with disabilities experience registering to vote and voting. The Commission undertook research with voters that have disabilities and spoke to a number of charities in order to inform its report.

Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Electoral Commission said:

“It is disappointing that we continue to hear about people with disabilities being unable to vote in secret, or even turned away from a polling station. This cannot be allowed to happen in our democracy. Voters with a disability should have access to the right support to ensure they can cast their vote with confidence. The Commission will step up its work with the UK’s governments, disability organisations and everyone involved in running elections to ensure there are no barriers to voting.”

People with disabilities told the Commission about the barriers they face when they want to register to vote and cast their vote. These include not understanding wording on election forms, not knowing they can ask for a tactile voting device and problems inside the polling station such as poor lighting and lack of space.

The Commission has now recommended a number of changes to tackle barriers which exist.

Those running elections should:

  • Make sure they understand the needs of people with disabilities so they can support them and make it easy for them to register to vote and to vote.
  • Look at ways that they can make registering to vote and voting more accessible.

Political parties and candidates should:

  • Make sure election-related information they send is easy to read and released early enough that people have time to read it.
  • When they publish their manifestos, make sure accessible formats are available at the same time so that everyone has enough time to understand their policy positions.

The UK’s governments should:

  • Explore different ways that people with disabilities can vote so they have greater flexibility, such as a choice of polling station and day to vote on.
  • Make the law clearer as to who a person with a disability is allowed to take with them into the polling station to support them in casting their vote.
  • Look into ways to make election forms easier to understand.

Sir John Holmes added:

“Imaginative ways of ensuring all voters can easily access their vote are needed. For example, advance voting or allowing a person with a disability to choose which polling station they would like to use could make a real difference. Carers, support workers, electoral staff and candidates should have better access to appropriate advice and resources to help anyone with a disability to cast their vote in secret and with confidence.”

The Commission will continue to work with the UK’s governments and others to ensure that the registering and voting process is as accessible as it can be. In addition, we will see how we can strengthen the guidance and supporting resources we give to electoral administrators and will work with accessibility groups on this.

Today’s report can be read on our website here, along with summary versions in Easy Read, large print and audio.

Ends

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to editors

1. The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:

  • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
  • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
  • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency

The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

2. Responsibility for some elections in Scotland and Wales is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales respectively. This includes responsibility for policy and legislation in relation to the accessibility of the electoral process.

3. The Commission has previously made recommendations on how the electoral registration system can be further modernised. To read the report, click here

The Electoral Commission worked with the following organisations to help and send out its questionnaire to:

  • MENCAP for people with learning disabilities
  • SCOPE for people with disabilities and their families
  • United Response for people with learning disabilities, mental health needs or physical disabilities
  • RNIB for people with visual impairments
  • MIND a mental health charity
  • Central and North West London NHS Trust
  • Inclusion Scotland, the disabled people’s organisation
  • Association of Electoral Administrators
  • Scottish Assessors Association
  • RNIB sent out a questionnaire asking people with a visual impairment about their experience of voting at the general election. You can see their findings here.

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