Memorandum by Sense (VOT 03)
1. Sense is a national voluntary organisation
which works and campaigns for the needs of people who are deafblind,
providing advice, support, information and services for deafblind
people, their families and professionals. It was founded in 1955
as a self-help group for parents of children born with congenital
rubella syndrome. Over the years our aims have expanded to encompass
people with acquired deafblindness. Many of the people for whom
we provide services have additional disabilities, including learning
2. Deafblindness is a unique disability.
Services that may be accessible for blind people who can hear
and/or deaf people who can see will not necessarily be accessible
to deafblind people. Being deafblind means that you have serious
problems with sight and hearing. It does not necessarily mean
that you are completely deaf or completely blind.
3. Being able to vote in privacy and secrecy
is a fundamental right for everyone, including deafblind people,
but it is of course necessary to be registered to vote in order
for this to happen.
4. Individual voter registration will facilitate
multi-channel voting, meaning that people with sensory impairments
will be able to choose the method of voting that is most accessible
to them. Sense welcomes this. However, it is important that offering
electors a choice of voting methods is not used as an excuse for
lack of accessibility in polling stations. The Polls Apart study
produced by Scope found that many disabled voters prefer to vote
in person rather than be offered a postal vote, and this is also
true of elderly voters, many of whom have sensory impairments.
5. Voting is both an individual and a collective
act. Individual, as opposed to household, voter registration underlines
the fact that no-one is obliged to reveal how they voted, whether
to members of their household or anyone else. However, Sense would
not want to see individual registration leading to a fall in registration
by groups such as those living in residential homes. Managers
of residential homes should be asked to assist those people living
in the homes with completing their forms. People who are unable
to sign should be allowed to make a mark and have this witnessed.
The form should clearly state that it is acceptable for an elector
to receive assistance with the form.
6. Sense policy is that everyone eligible
to vote should be registered, whether or not they have the capacity
to vote, and that anyone capable of voting should be enabled to
do so. The decision on whether a particular person has capacity
is one for the presiding officer at the polling station rather
than anyone connected with that person's care.
7. If voter registration were made non-compulsory
there is a danger that registration among disabled people, particularly
people living in residential homes, would fall. For this reason,
we do not support a move to non-compulsory registration.
8. If registration continues to be compulsory,
it would be helpful if materials could also be produced for people
such as care home managers setting out their responsibilities
in relation to registration.
9. We note that the Select Committees' joint
enquiry will cover issues of geographic and ethnic variations
in levels of voter registration. We suggest that the committees
might also like to examine issues of variation in the levels of
voter registration among disabled people.
10. Most local authorities have information
about voter registration on their web sites. However, downloadable
electoral registration forms in PDF form can be difficult for
people with visual impairments to read and complete. The Electoral
Commission's website has an excellent facility allowing people
to complete a form on-line before sending it to their local authority.
This is extremely useful for people with low vision, who can enlarge
the text on-screen to their preferred size. However, it is important
that people without access to the internet, or who find electronic
systems daunting, can continue to register using a paper form,
and be provided with assistance to do this if they need it.
11. Some disabilities may prevent a person
from completing a form themselves or providing a signature. Local
authorities should be required to offer assistance to such people
on request, and the availability of such assistance should be
publicised on the form. The form should be available in accessible
formats such as braille, tape and large print, and local authorities
should accept responses in these formats.
12. Information about how to register should
meet the RNIB clear print guidelines, and should also be available
in alternative formats. This will benefit many people, including
large numbers of elderly people who have poor sight and hearing
but would not necessarily define themselves as deafblind.
13. Sense suggests that there should be
a facility for electors to be able to indicate on their registration
forms that they would like help with the ballot. However, it is
important that access to the list of electors requiring such assistance
is restricted to those people with a need to know, in order to
avoid any threat to the safety of vulnerable people.
14. If the basis for individual registration
were address-based, it would enable registration officers to identify
properties known to be in multiple occupation, for example residential
homes, and to take action to ensure that the occupants register.
For example, registration officers could be asked to send multiple
copies of the registration form to premises in multiple occupation.
Materials could be produced for display, encouraging people to
register to vote and reminding them that it is a legal requirement
to do so.
15. Whatever means of ensuring the security
of the register are used, it is essential that they do not exclude
disabled people. If PINs are to be used, for example, then the
keypads with which they are to be used should be designed to be
as easy as possible for people with visual impairments to use.