In the recent General Election an estimated 1,379,700 voters were prevented from voting in secret because of inaccessible voting and registration methods. The Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) is calling for online voting to be introduced by 2020 to remove barriers for blind people to exercise their right to a secret ballot.
I was excluded from voting this year despite registering to vote online; as I was unable to read the subsequent letter I received asking me to enter more information because I am registered blind.
As Chief Executive of RLSB I know that I am not the only blind person who had a negative experience in the recent General Election. My colleague Kevin, who is also registered blind, 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 of 1872. Despite this, 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. Or, as happened with me this year, the registration process can leave people without a vote at all.
Online voting could finally make secret ballots a reality for blind people across the UK.
Currently, 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.
What is so brilliant about online voting is that it has the potential to boost access to democracy across more than just vision impaired people. 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. Webroots Democracy's Areeq Chowdury updated his findings following the recent General Election:
"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."
- 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.