Shropshire Star

Arrangements for helping blind voters unlawful, High Court rules

Rachael Andrews, who has no sight in one eye and very little sight in the other, brought the legal action over the tactile voting device.

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Rachael Andrews

The Government’s current arrangements for helping blind voters do not allow people to vote independently and are unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

In a judgment on Friday, a leading judge said that “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”.

Rachael Andrews, 46, who has no sight in one eye and very little sight in the other, brought the legal action over the tactile voting device (TVD), which fits over the ballot paper to allow a user to mark an X in a particular place.

She argued that the TVD does not allow blind or partially sighted people to vote without assistance because they still need someone to read out the names of the candidates and the order in which they appear on the ballot paper, rendering the TVD “essentially worthless”.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Swift found that “the present TVD does not enable blind voters to vote ‘without any need for assistance’ because it does not assist the blind voter when it comes to marking her vote against the candidate of her choice”.

He said that a device which enabled a blind voter to vote without the need for assistance “would need to do more than the present TVD”, for example by including the names of candidates and their parties “in Braille and/or raised lettering” on it.

In a statement after the ruling, Ms Andrews said she was “extremely pleased” with the decision and called on the Government to “urgently take the necessary steps to allow blind voters such as myself to vote independently and in secret in future elections”.

She said: “The right to vote independently and in secret is fundamental to any democratic society and it is extremely frustrating that I have had to bring this legal challenge in order to force the Government to make suitable arrangements for blind voters.”

Her lawyers at Leigh Day said the ruling will affect about 350,000 people in the UK who are registered blind or partially sighted.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “It is absolutely right that provisions should be in place to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can do so with confidence.

“The Tactile Voting Device has been in use since 2001 and has assisted many people with visual impairments to complete their ballot papers.

“The Government is already working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People to identify improved ways of supporting people with sight loss to vote independently, including promoting improved training for polling station staff.”

In a witness statement prepared for the case, Ms Andrews, who has been registered blind since 2000 as a result of myopic macular degeneration, described her vision as “like looking through an obscured bathroom window or doily – everything appears smeary and patchy”.

Ms Andrews said it was “almost impossible” to remember the names of all candidates on a ballot from election literature, which was “even more of a problem” when there are multiple elections on a single day.

She added: “Therefore, at present, even with a TVD, I still require assistance from either the presiding officer or a companion and therefore am still not able to vote on my own.

“There is therefore nothing independent or secret about the experience.”

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