Voting Arrangements for Blind People a Parody of Democracy, Court Rules

Judges are the ultimate guardians of democracy and they are always there to ensure that every individual has an unhindered right to cast a secret ballot. In a striking case on point, the High Court pinpointed a grave deficiency in the voting system that undermines the ability of blind people to participate in elections.

The Representation of the People Act 1983 dictates that devices must be provided to enable blind or partially sighted people to vote without assistance from presiding officers or companions. In purported compliance with that provision, voting stations are equipped with tactile voting devices (TVDs) – plastic sheets fitted with flaps upon which are displayed raised numbers that can be identified by touch and that are also printed in Braille.

TVDs enable a blind voter to put his or her cross in a box corresponding to one of the numbers displayed. But there is no way that, by using a TVD alone, a voter can discern the names of candidates or the parties they represent. TVDs therefore only enable a blind voter to cast a ballot without assistance if he or she memorises the order of candidates on frequently lengthy ballot papers.

In challenging those arrangements by way of judicial review, a woman with only very limited vision in one eye argued that TVDs that do not enable blind voters to identify candidates cannot meet the requirements of the Act. In one by-election in which she voted there were 12 candidates and, on another occasion, elections for two councils and Parliament were held on the same day. Lists of candidates could not in practice be memorised and she had had to endure the continual humiliation of seeking assistance in casting her vote.

In upholding her arguments, the Court found that a device that does no more than enable a blind voter to identify where on a ballot paper a cross can be marked, without being able to distinguish one candidate from another, cannot in any realistic sense enable that person to vote. The use of TVDs in their current form was thus a parody of the electoral process established by the Act. The Court issued a formal declaration to that effect.