Norfolk voting trial should go national, says charity for the blind

Bernie Reddington

Bernie Reddington, who was the first voter to take part in the trial. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Technology trialled in Norfolk, which helped blind and partially sighted people vote in May's elections, should be rolled out nationally, a charity says.

Broadland and South Norfolk councils ran a Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Cabinet Office-backed trial of an audio device in the Norfolk County Council elections.

Machine used for speaking out candidates on the ballot paper

The audio device which was used in the trial. - Credit: George Thompson

The devices were taken into the ballot box with a headset which allowed voters to listen to the candidates’ names and cast their vote independently, with no need for another person to be present.

The RNIB says, of the 11 participants who took part in the Norfolk trial, 10 (more than 91pc) reported they were satisfied with their overall voting experience this year.

That compared with a satisfaction rate in the electoral process of just 39pc from blind and partially sighted voters across the UK.

Research by the RNIB found only one in five blind voters and less than half of partially sighted were able to vote independently under the current voting system.

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The others had to get another person to help them to cast their vote, which is supposed to be secret.

And the charity says the technology used in the Norfolk trial should be rolled out nationally.

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Mike Wordingham, policy and campaigns officer at RNIB, said: "From the trials that took place in Norfolk, it is clear to see that the introduction of audio devices made a huge difference to making voting an inclusive and accessible experience for those who took part.

"It is crucial that these devices are rolled out nationwide for May 2022 so people with sight loss know they can vote independently and in secret when visiting the polling station.

"We are keen to continue working closely with the Cabinet Office over the coming months to ensure this is in place.

"Clearly there is still a long way to go before the voting system is a fully accessible and inclusive one.

"The fact that such a large proportion of people with sight loss are still having to rely on someone else to vote on their behalf shows urgent action needs to be taken to ensure that blind and partially sighted people can vote independently and in secret, without concern that their wishes of which party to vote for could be sabotaged.”

'My vote is as important as anyone else's'

Bernie Reddington was the first person to vote using the new technology in the trial.

Mrs Reddington,, from Sprowston, has a condition called aniridia - where the iris, or the coloured part of the eye, is missing - and she is registered blind.

She said: "It was really liberating to be able to vote by myself.

"However, the solution is only as good as the training the staff at the polling station have received in how to ensure voting is accessible.

"At first, the wrong template was used with the ballot paper and this was only detected by a sighted person I was with.

"Once resolved, both my daughter and I were able to vote using the template with the audio player and this was the most independent I have ever felt when voting.

“Sometimes it felt like people were doing me a favour by assisting me on election day, but voting in secret is not a favour, it is a hard-fought for right.

"My vote is as important as anyone else’s.”

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