Over a million blind voters left without a voice in General Election

In January 2017, RSBC merged with the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB). Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following article.

Dr Tom Pey, Chief Executive of RLSB, was excluded from voting this year despite registering to vote online; as he was unable to read the subsequent letter he received asking him to enter more information.

He is not the only blind person who had a negative experience last week. Blind young person, Kevin Satizibal aged 24, has never voted in secret:

“Being an active part of our democratic society is really important to me, not only that, it is my human right. Last week, once again, my dad had to mark my ballot for me as I was not offered assistance at the polling station. I also do not have confidence in the current accessible voting systems, without electronic or online voting I am very concerned that I would somehow spoil my ballot. It is not acceptable that in the year 2015, almost 150 years after my right secret ballot was enshrined in law, I am still excluded from it.”

The right to a secret ballot is enshrined in both Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UK’s Ballot Act 1872. Online voting could finally make this a reality for blind people across the UK.

Currently, blind and partially sighted people are denied their right to a secret ballot, as they often rely on someone else to support them in the polling booth. The Royal London Society for Blind People’s Youth Forum is calling for online voting to be introduced by 2020 in their Vote without Limits campaign, launched last year in Parliament Week. Their call is supported by the findings of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, which included a strong recommendation for online voting to be introduced.

Viral Voting report author and Founder of WebRoots Democracy, Areeq Chowdhury said:

“Turnout in the General Election only increased by 0.3 percentage points compared to 2010, with a third of the population not voting. Our recent report ‘Viral Voting’ found that introducing online voting could boost overall turnout to 79%. However, without it, at the current growth rate, it would take us over 200 years to reach that level.

Online voting has other important benefits, too. In addition to cutting the cost per vote by a third, and ensuring accessibility for those with vision impairments and other disabilities, online voting can reduce the number of accidentally spoilt ballots and future-proof our democratic process.

In the recent election, an estimated 27,500 votes were rejected due to voters ticking more than one candidate on their ballot papers, and the 2020 election will be the first election to see a generation of first time voters born in the noughties.”

Viral Voting, a report by pressure group WebRoots Democracy, reveals that 65% of the UK population are in favour of online voting. Young people are particularly attracted to the potential of online voting with the report estimating that youth voter turnout could increase to 70%, up from 44% in the 2010 General Election.

ENDS

Notes

Isolation and poverty. This is the untold story of childhood sight loss. It’s time to change the game for blind children and young people. At the Royal London Society for Blind People, our expert family therapists work side by side with parents, to support blind young Londoners to discover the skills and confidence they need to take control of their life. We’re a hard-working, game-changing, mould-breaking organisation, set on ensuring that every blind young person should have the chance to live life without limits. More at www.rsbc.org.uk

RLSB’s Youth Forum was set up to act as a megaphone for vision impaired young people in London and the South East and to unearth potential solutions to challenges faced by blind young people, such as employment, transport and accessible technology. The Youth Forum is made up of vision impaired people aged between 16–25. The Forum meets regularly to advise on the needs and aspirations of vision impaired young people and act as a voice for the wider community it represents.

The Votes without Limits petition has over 200 signatures and can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/electoral-commission-please-support-blind-and-partially-sighted-people-s-right-to-vote-in-secret

The estimated 1379700 is based on the following two facts A survey carried out by RNIB last year found that 69 per cent of respondents were unable to vote in secret and independent of assistance.There are an estimated 1971000 vision impaired people of voting age in the UK.

Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can be found here: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=289WebRoots Democracy is an independent, voluntary, youth-led organisation launched in May 2014

The Viral Voting report was launched on March 3rd 2015 and can be downloaded here: https://webrootsdemocracy.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/webroots-democracy-viral-voting.pdf

The report analyses survey results with a combined sample of 11,704.The 9 million increase in turnout estimate is calculated based on four surveys (with a combined sample size of 4,316), the 2013 British Social Attitudes Study, and the 2010 General Election turnout figures. The full calculation can be found on page 86 of the report. A summary of the findings and estimated impact can also be found on page 12 and 13.

For press enquiries, please contact Mel Vessey at mel.vessey@rsbc.org.uk or telephone 020 3198 0225.

May 14, 2015

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