The Electoral Commission advises that polling stations must ensure that disabled voters are not offered a lower standard of service than other voters and the Returning Officer for your station is supposed to make arrangements to ensure disabled voters have the same access to the electoral process as anyone else.
Contact the Electoral Registration Officer at your local authority to ask specific questions about the accessibility requirements you have.
So what should you expect at the polls?
Here we summarise the Electoral Commissions accessibility checklist, but make sure you also check with your local Electoral Registration Office about the following before going to vote:
- physical access, e.g. wheelchair ramps and disabled parking spaces
- low-level polling booths
- equipment for votes with a visual impairment.
Signage to the polling station
You should expect a large polling station sign so that you can easily identify the polling station and clear directions should steer you to the entrance. If there is a different entrance to assist people with mobility problems then this entrance should also be clearly signed and be at a height so it can be read by someone in a wheelchair. You should be able to see and read the ‘Guidance for voters’ when you arrive.
Disabled car parking should be clearly visible and monitored throughout the day. Staff should be able to tell you the nearest parking facilities available to you, should you need them.
Level access to polling stations
The polling station should be accessible to all voters. Presiding Officers should know how to install and check temporary and secure low gradient ramps and monitor these throughout the day. No obstructions or hazards should block your route to the entrance.
Getting into the polling station
Doors should always be propped open for designated disabled access route, except fire doors, and loose doormats should be removed if there is a danger of tripping.
Inside the polling station
You should be able to move smoothly through the voting process, especially if there is limited space.
- You should be able to move to the booths and the ballot box without any problems or obstructing other voters.
- The ballot box must be accessible to all, including voters in wheelchairs, and must also be positioned in a way that prevents voters from leaving the polling station without placing their ballot paper(s) in the ballot box(es).
- Polling agents should be available to observe, but not interfere or obstruct the voting process.
- Chairs should be provided if you need to rest.
Accessible polling booths
Polling stations should provide the following:
- Adequate lighting for people with visual impairments. This should be available in the polling booth, where large print versions of ballot papers are displayed.
- Low level polling booths should be available for wheelchair users.
- Low level ballot box – on a chair rather than a table so that people who are not able to ballot boxes on tables can cast their vote independently.
- Adding a white strip around the slot of the ballot box to help people with visual impairments locate the openign more easily.
- Guidance for voters notices ust be provided in Braille and be displayed.
- Large-print version of the ballot paper must be displayed inside the polling station for the assistance of voters who are blind or partially sighted.
- Enlarged hand-held copies of the ballot paper, marked as ‘sample’, should be available to anyone who requires them.
Visually impaired voters
It is a legal requirement to provide a tactile voting device at every polling station. The tactile template is a device that allows someone who is blind or partially sighted to mark the ballot paper themselves once the details on the ballot paper have been read out, either by their companion or by the Presiding Officer.
Polling station staff should explain to visually impaired voters that the device is available for them to use if they wish.
Disabled voters may request the assistance of the Presiding Officer to mark the ballot paper for them. Alternatively, they can bring someone with them to help them vote (this person must be an immediate family member over 18 years old or a qualified elector).
Alternative ways to vote – Voting by post
You can apply to vote by post rather than going to a polling station. If you have registered to vote by post you will be sent your ballot paper. You can cast your vote in your own home using your own magnifiers or equipment, rather than going to your polling station. You can also request assistance at home, including a tactile voting device, a large print ballot form for reference, and help with returning your completed ballot form.
Alternative ways to vote – Voting by proxy
If you are registered to vote, but will be unable to get to a polling station to vote, you can appoint someone you trust to go to your polling station to vote on your behalf. This is called voting by proxy. Unlike postal voting, you do need to give a reason for your proxy vote. Explaining you find it difficult to get to the polling station because of your sight loss or another disability should suffice. You’ll need to register to vote by proxy at least six working days before the election by completing an application form (there are different application forms depending on your reason for requesting a proxy vote) and sending it back to your local electoral registration office. Unless you are registered as blind you will need someone to support your application (such as a GP or social worker).
To find your local Electoral Registration Officer, enter your postcode at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.