High Court rules arrangements for helping blind voters are unlawful and parody of the electoral process

Tue,7 May 2019
News Equality & Rights

The High Court has given a damning judgment on the Government’s current arrangements for blind and partially sighted voters, declaring them unlawful and describing them as being “a parody of the electoral process”.

The judicial review challenge was brought by Rachael Andrews, who is registered blind, in relation to the Government’s failure to make the suitable arrangements to allow her to vote independently and secretly at the polling station.

The judgment will impact the around 350,000 people who are registered blind or partially sighted in the UK.

The legal challenge to the adaptation used at ballot boxes, the tactile voting device (TVD). This fits over the ballot paper to allow a user to mark an X in a particular place.

Ms. Andrews argued that the system did not allow blind and partially sighted people to vote independently. Either the official in charge of the polling station or a member of their close family has to read out the names of the candidates and the order in which they appear on the ballot paper. That information is not available on the TVD – so there is therefore no way for a voter who is blind to know which flap on the TVD corresponds to which candidate without help.

Delivering its judgment, the High Court said:
“A device that does no more than enable blind voters to identify where on a ballot paper the cross can be marked, without being able to distinguish between one candidate from another, does not in any realistic sense enable that person to vote.

Enabling a blind voter to mark ballot papers without being able to know which candidate she is voting for is a parody of the electoral process established under the rules”.
As a result, the Court declared that the Government’s current arrangements to be unlawful as TVDs simply do not allow blind and partially sighted people to vote without any need for assistance.
Rachael Adams said:

“The right to vote independently and in secret is fundamental to any democratic society and it is extremely frustrating that I have had to bring this legal challenge in order to force the Government to make suitable arrangements for blind voters.

She added that:
“The Government now need to accept today’s judgment and urgently take the necessary steps to allow blind voters such as myself to vote independently and in secret in future elections.” 

Director of Policy and Development at Disability Rights UK Sue Bott said:

“Rachel Andrews is to be congratulated for bringing this case.  

It’s high time we visually impaired people had equality of access to the democratic process.”

For more information on the High Court’s 3 May 2019 judgment see Successful legal challenge to Government's voting provisions available @ www.leighday.co.uk

Disability Rights UK's Right to Participate website has videos, animations, information and resources to help you find out more about the Equality Act and how to fight discrimination.

Go to our Right to Participate website

This website project is funded by the Legal Education Foundation.

You can use it to:

For more background information on the Equality Act see the Right to Participate animation and our factsheet on the Equality Act and Disabled People