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Commission calls for improvements to make elections more accessible

Commission calls for improvements to make elections more accessible
9th December 2019 Ian Streets

You might not see much about it in the mainstream media, but interest is intensifying in some online forums around the issues of accessibility when it comes to voting.

If you meet all the criteria and you are not legally excluded from voting then you should be able to take part whether it’s a local authority election, a general election, or a referendum.

Interestingly, the home pages of the major party websites will tell you why you should vote for them, but they all fall short when it comes to communicating the general procedures around the election and their main political points in a manner which is accessible. Maybe the leaflets dropping through the doors will be more helpful.

But what about polling day itself?

Many disabled people vote by post or proxy, but some people like the process of voting at the polling station and some like having until the day to make up their minds.

People posting on the forums report that – however inappropriate – some polling station staff in the past have advised disabled electors it would be easier to vote by post.

Guidance from the Electoral Commission highlights the need to make the voting process accessible to all.

Signage and directions at polling stations should be clearly visible. If temporary ramps are used they should be secure and stable, and there should be no obstructions or hazards along the route into the building.

Staff should position themselves so they can easily be identified by voters, who can then move to the voting booths and ballot boxes without obstructing other voters. The ballot boxes themselves must be accessible to all voters and located in areas which have good lighting. Placing a white strip around the slot of the ballot box can help people who have a visual impairment.

It is a legal requirement to provide a tactile voting device at every polling station, and the Electoral Commission urges polling station staff to inform visually impaired voters that the equipment is available if required.

The Commission also advises polling station staff of the importance of providing a good service to all voters and warns that if they think someone needs assistance they should ask first rather than make assumptions.

It has also urged the government, the political parties and the people who run elections to take a number of steps including making election forms easier to understand, giving people with disabilities more ways to vote and making registering to vote and the voting process itself more accessible.

The full version of the Electoral Commission’s polling station accessibility guidance and checklist can be found at www.electoralcommission.org.uk

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