Voters with a disability want change, says Electoral Commission

By agency reporter
November 11, 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.

* Read the report Elections for everyone here

*Electoral Commission


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.