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Barriers to Voting

Updated: Jun 14


Image described in caption.
Overlaying a background with different two hues of purple curves, the words 'Barriers to Voting' are in bold, capitalised, pale purple text. Underneath, the ourline of a hand placing a ballot in a box is central. Overlaying a white strip along the bottom are Equal Lives', NCAN and NAP's logos

At Equal Lives, we want as many people as possible to be able to take part in democracy and exercise their right to vote, but right now, there are a range of barriers to voting for Disabled people. These barriers can be architectural, informational, digital, financial, and attitudinal in nature.


There are many people who choose not to vote, and this reflects a broader pattern globally of voter numbers declining since the 1960s. Some groups of people are less likely to vote; young people, those with fewer qualifications, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, people born overseas, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Reasons eligible voters may not vote include disengagement with politics and logistical and bureaucratic barriers to voting.


Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the next general election will take place on 4 July this year - just over a month away! This will be the first general election in the UK since the implementation of the new requirement for voters to provide photo ID when voting. It is also the first general election since the Elections Act of 2022 was introduced. The Act aims to provide greater flexibility and choice in how Disabled voters are supported to vote at polling stations. We welcome these new legal protections, that aim to ensure that Disabled people are not excluded from democracy by access barriers, but, like in most facets of life, Disabled people often slip through the net.


This blog will explain some of the barriers to voting that Disabled people face, based on research in the UK and overseas. We will signpost you to resources that may help you to vote.


We also want to hear from Equal Lives Members about your experiences with voting. We have teamed up with the Norfolk Advocacy Partnership (NAP) and Norfolk Community Advice Network (NCAN) to conduct research into the barriers that Disabled people encounter while voting via a survey. We will use this research to advocate for Disabled people’s voting rights in the region, and to raise awareness of this issue more broadly.

 

How Disabled people can be Locked out of Voting


Sight Loss and Voting


RNIB produced the Turned Out 2022 Report, a document in which they explore the barriers to voting for people with sight loss. The report begins, ‘The practical act of voting – making a cross in a specific location on a piece of paper – is fundamentally a visual exercise. As such, the majority of the 350,000 blind and partially sighted people in the UK face unacceptable barriers to voting independently and in secret.’

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Same motif as the first graphic but with the above quote from RNIB's Turned Out Report 2022

Poor access in pre-election materials is a huge barrier, with ‘only 15 per cent of blind people and 27 per cent of partially sighted people said they were able to read all of the information sent to them by their local council. Just under half (49 per cent) of blind people and 15 per cent of partially sighted people said they couldn’t read any of the information the council sent them.’

 

Learning Disabilities and Voting


Research shows that only two thirds of the UK population know that people with learning disabilities have a legal right to vote! In the UK, around 1.5 million people have a learning disability, and there are around 700,00 autistic people. That’s a huge number of people who may be missing out on their democratic rights.

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Same motif as the first graphic but with the words 'Research shows that only two thirds of the UK population know that people with learning disabilities have a legal right to vote!'

Tim Cooper, Chief Executive at United Response, said, ‘Far too few legally permitted adults are casting their vote at elections. People with learning disabilities in particular must be informed about their rights and supported to cast their vote if they want to. This is where care providers like ourselves have a huge role to play. But equally, more must be done by national and local governments, local authorities and polling stations to break down barriers and help create a truly inclusive society – one where every one of its citizens can help shape the decisions which affect their daily lives.’


My Vote My Voice is a campaign developed by United Response, Dimensions, Mencap, Ambitious About Autism, and those who use their services. It is important that those with learning disabilities and autism know they are entitled to vote and are given the right information in an appropriate format (for example, in easy read) to make an informed decision.

 

Hearing Loss and Voting


The Royal Association for Deaf people (RAD) expressed frustration that they were unable to signpost Deaf people to reliable sources of ​party-political information in BSL because there aren’t any! This has been an issue political parties have been aware of for a long time.


In 2011, a group of Deaf people’s organisations produced a report, flagging the gaps in the electoral process that shut Deaf voters out of the political process. The report stated, ‘BSL is a visual-gestural indigenous language with its own grammar and principles. They are completely different from the grammatical structure of English. Many people whose first language is BSL are not fluent in written English… Without access to information about elections and voting in their own language, people whose first language is BSL are not able to fully participate and contribute as equal and valued citizens. They are less likely to know how to register and when to vote. They are less able to make an informed decision.’


Even during last week’s announcement of the general election date, the charity, RNID tweeted, ‘Where’s the British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter 10 Downing Street? Calling a #GeneralElection is one of the biggest moves our country can make – deaf people deserve to have that information at the same time as everyone else. This is not good enough!’

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Same motif as the first graphic, but with a screenshot of RNID's May 22nd tweet to 10 Downing Street

Other Access Barriers


Disabled people with mobility impairments have reported that a lack of step-free access has previously stopped them voting. The Electoral Commission very clearly state the expectation that polling stations must have step-free access, a polling booth at wheelchair level, and seating available.


Horrifyingly, we have heard reports of voters being turned away from polling stations on the basis of their disability! This is not legal. Each polling station is selected to ensure that everyone can access it, so if you come up against access barriers, you are well within your legal rights to request Reasonable Adjustments that will enable you to vote.


Poverty and homelessness disproportionately impact Disabled people, so another barrier to voting can be that those experiencing homelessness and housed in hotels or temporary accommodation may struggle to register for postal voting, due to a lack of stability and short-notice relocation beyond their control. The same situation applies to those sectioned under the Mental Health Act, who are residing in in-patient settings, and also those remanded in custody who have not yet been charged. If any of these situations are the case for you, the good news is that you can fill out this form to register to vote without a fixed address.


A broader issue is that Disabled people are under-represented in politics, and evidence shows the feeling politics is not ‘for you’ plays a key role in disenfranchising the Disabled electorate.

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Same motif as first graphic, but with the above quote about Disabled people being underrepresented in politics.

Final thoughts


Disabled people in the UK are facing unique challenges right now, so our views and experiences should be shaping the political landscape, rather than being overlooked. Political parties across the board have been resting on their laurels for far too long when it comes to inclusion of Disabled people in the democratic process.


It will be interesting to see how political parties perform in this area over the coming weeks. There is a long way to go before voting equity will be achieved, but as a Disabled voter, you are legally entitled to participate in the democratic process and your opinons matter.


Below are some resources that may aid your participation in the upcoming general election. Please do share your thoughts on this topic with us via the Barriers to Voting survey, and please reach out if you want to share any other resources that may help others via communications@equallives.org.uk.


Resources:


  • To register to vote, you will need your National Insurance number. The deadline for this is Tuesday 18th June.

  • NCAN have created a step-by-step guide on getting ready to vote.

  • Can I Vote? is very simple tool helping people find out whether they are eligible to vote in the General Election based on their nationality.

  • Who can I vote for? is a tool that shows names and brief info about candidates standing in your area.

  • If you do not have a valid photo ID, you can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate. To apply, you will need your National Insurance number and passport-style photo The deadline for this is 5pm, Wednesday 26 June.

  • RNIB have created this guide for people with sight loss on the types of accessibility accommodations they can expect in order to vote independently and privately and how to request them.

  • My Vote My Voice have created an easy-read step-by-step guide to voting.

  • My Vote My Voice have created easy-read guides on how politics works.

  • Rethink Mental Illness have created this guide to voting during a general election if you are detained under the Mental Health Act.

  • You can reach out to your local polling station to ask about your specific access needs and requests ahead of time. Polling station address information will be made available roughly two weeks before the election. To find out which your local polling station is click here, or here, or by looking on the polling card that will be delivered to you by post before the election.

  • If travel itself to a polling station is a barrier for you, you have three options:

  1. Postal voting, for which, you will need to know your National Insurance number and have a handwritten signature (or scan / photo of this for online applications) deadline to register 5pm, Wednesday 19 June).

  2. Voting by proxy (asking someone else to vote on your behalf).

  3. Contact local representatives of the political party you intend to vote for (we aren’t allowed to share any contact details), and they may be able to provide assistance taking you to the polling station.

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The headline says 'Key dates for the General Election 2024” There is a table of dates and deadlines to register to vote. The information is as follows: Tuesday 18 June - Deadline to register to vote. 5pm, Wednesday 19 June - Deadline to register for a postal vote. 5pm, Wednesday 26 June - Deadline to apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate - get this if you don’t have valid photo ID! Thursday 4 July - General Election'.
Heading: What Photo ID can you use to vote? Passport issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, a British Overseas Territory, an EEA state or a Commonwealth country.Driving licence issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, or an EEA state (including a provisional licence). A Blue Badge. Older Person’s Bus Pass funded by the UK Government (some other travel passes are valid - the full list is on the government website). Disabled Person’s Bus Pass funded by the UK Government. Identity card bearing the Proof of Age Standards Scheme hologram (a PASS card). Biometric immigration document. Ministry of Defence Form 90 (Defence Identity Card). National identity card issued by an EEA state. Electoral Identity Card issued in Northern Ireland. Voter Authority Certificate. Anonymous Elector's Document. Expired ID is fine as long as your name is the same and the photo still looks like you. Underneath this it says Get ready to vote - Norfolk Community Advice Network.


This blog was co-written by Arianne Brown of Equal Lives, Ruth Stokes of Norfolk Community Advice Network (NCAN), and Idunn Marthinsen of Norfolk Advocacy Partnership (NAP).

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