A guest blog by Catriona Burness, Parliamentary and Policy Manager, RNIB Scotland
National Democracy Week is a good time to think about whether our democracy is accessible to all.
The right to vote independently, and in secret, is a cornerstone of our democracy. Yet blind and partially sighted people continue to face unacceptable barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote.
RNIB research on the 2017 general election found that only one in four blind and partially sighted voters felt the current system let them vote independently and in secret.
The Scottish Parliament recently gained new powers over the conduct of Scottish Parliamentary elections and electoral registration, alongside its existing devolved responsibility for local government elections.
These new powers create new opportunities and RNIB Scotland welcomed the recent Scottish Government consultation on Electoral Reform.
We reported concerns about the current Tactile Voting Device (TVD). Sometimes TVDs are not clearly available at polling stations or polling staff don’t know how they should be used. There was interest in telephone and online voting options with the caveat that the system would have be both accessible and secure. Blind and partially sighted voters also want information about candidates and party policies in good time.
These issues matter to blind and partially sighted people so we made electoral reform our fringe topic for the Scottish spring party conference season and were delighted that the Electoral Commission accepted our invitation to speak. We would be happy to work with the Scottish Government, the Electoral Commission and other interested organisations on pilot voting arrangements and have three key asks for the future:
- Replacement of the current TVD with a more accessible device.
- Guarantee all blind and partially sighted voters can get their legal right to vote without any assistance and in secret.
- An online and/or telephone option for blind and partially sighted people to cast their vote independently and in secret.
Don’t cross out blind and partially sighted people!