The UK Government is proposing to make it easier for people with disabilities to vote.
The proposals would enable voters with disabilities to choose anyone who is over 18 to accompany them in the polling station, to help them vote. Currently, someone can only act as a companion if they are either an immediate family member who is over 18, or if they have the right to vote at the same election.
The proposals also cover the support given in polling stations to voters with disabilities. Returning Officers at local councils are in charge of running elections in their area. They are currently required to provide specific forms of support to voters with disabilities at polling stations, such as a sample large print ballot paper for people with sight loss. The list of support they must provide is set out in law. These proposals would replace this list, instead requiring Returning Officers to take all reasonable steps to provide support to people with disabilities at polling stations.
Every voter should be able to register and vote without facing barriers. While there have been significant improvements, we know there is still more to be done to improve the voting experience for people with disabilities. These changes would give voters with disabilities more flexibility in how they are supported at polling stations.
In our research with voters, people with disabilities told us that the restrictions on choosing a companion can make it difficult to find someone to help. The proposals would give voters with disabilities more choice when selecting someone to accompany them in the polling station.
Requiring Returning Officers to take all reasonable steps to support voters with disabilities at polling stations would improve the range and quality of support available. It would also speed up the process of providing additional support when a gap is identified. At present, changing the support available is a complex process, which requires changes to the law. It can take a long time to make these changes, making it more difficult to keep up with developments in assistive technology and changes in understanding people’s needs.
Our guidance will help Returning Officers to identify what kind of support to provide. It will be important to make sure there is proper funding so that this support has the right impact for voters with disabilities.