Need to know: casting your vote

Casting your vote is one of the most empowering things anyone can do. Millions of people vote every year, having their say on government, local issues and the future of their area. Despite the huge participation, many blind and partially sighted people feel they aren’t able to vote independently and in secret. So what do you need to know to make sure your voice is heard, but your vote is kept secret?


How do I vote?

If you are intending to vote in person, you will need to find the location of your nearest polling station.  Find out where your nearest polling station is here.

You’ll be able to visit there anytime between 7AM – 10PM. There will be staff on hand to take your name. Make sure to tell them you are visually impaired; they should then allow you to use any tools or technology you may need in order to vote. They will then give you your ballot papers to fill out in the polling booths, which are provided to prevent anyone seeing how you vote.

You then mark your choice on your ballot paper in any way you wish – most people indicate with an ‘X’ next to their preferred candidate. If you make a mistake and accidentally make a mark in the wrong box, you can ask for a replacement ballot paper. Make sure not to sign your name or provide any way of identifying you, as this will invalidate your vote. Once you’re happy with your vote, make sure to fold the ballot paper and put it in the ballot box.

If you’ve already signed up for a postal vote, you don’t have to do anything – your ballot paper will be sent to your address, and you can return it using the envelope provided.

Sign up for postal voting  here. It’s a simple process – all it requires you to do is fill out a short form and return it to your local council, who will then process your request and send you out a ballot paper ahead of the election. If you require an accessible version of this form, you will need to contact your local electoral registration office. Find the details of your local electoral registration office here.

If you can’t make it on polling day and haven’t already signed up for a postal vote, don’t worry – if you have someone you trust to vote on your behalf, you can have them vote by proxy. This application can be submitted anytime until 6 days out from polling day – and in certain circumstances on polling day.   Read more on proxy voting is here.

The application process is simple. First off, you need to find someone who can vote for you – they need to be registered to vote, eligible to vote in the election you’re asking them to vote in, and someone you trust. You can then fill out the form with details of you and your proxy. You can get an accessible version of this form by contacting your local electoral registration office.  Find the details of your local electoral registration office here.


What do I need to know?

Before the election, make sure to find out what election you’re voting in. If multiple elections are being held on the same day, then you may be given multiple ballot papers. Some elections also use different voting systems – for instance, whilst local and Parliamentary elections use a first-past-the-post system where you have one vote, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner elections use the Supplementary Vote system, which means you indicate first and second preference on your ballot paper. Read more about  what system you’ll be using and how it works.

Depending on your needs, you may have different accessible options to enable you to vote. Polling stations have a large print ballot form, which you can use for reference – but you will still need to cast your vote on the standard ballot paper.

Technology like video magnifiers are also allowed to be used to help you vote. Whilst you are allowed to take your phone in to use magnifying or text-to-speech apps, it’s best to explain that this is your intention before you start using it, as taking photos is illegal in a polling station.

You can also access tactile voting devices if you’re having difficulty filling out the standard ballot paper. This attaches to the front of your ballot paper, and has numbered flaps that cover the box in which you indicate your vote. You will need the larger print form, or have someone read out the list of candidates. You can then remember the number of the candidate you want to vote for, lift up the corresponding flap and vote.


What do I need to cast my vote?

Although you should be allowed to use the tools you need to vote, the decision whether to allow this adjustment isn’t set in stone – it’s up to the Returning Officer, who oversees the electoral process. You can find out beforehand what arrangements are by contacting electoral services at your local council – this will also help raise accessibility as an issue to the Returning Officer.

Although elections are held using a secret ballot – which means no one is able to tell how you’ve voted – you are entitled to bring someone to help you, as long as they are over the age of 18.

You may have heard in the news about compulsory voter ID, which the government believes will reduce the risk of electoral fraud. However, we’re campaigning to get the government to think again on this new requirement which we are concerned will present yet another barrier to blind and partially sighted people. We’ve already written to the Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution, Chloe Smith MP.  Read her response.

At the time of writing, the government is aiming to have the photo ID requirement in place by May 2023, but we will continue to raise the concerns of blind and partially sighted people about the accessibility of voting and the additional barrier imposed on them by its introduction.


Is the voting process accessible for blind and partially sighted people?

We caught up with Peter Stanyon, CEO of the Association of Electoral Administrators, to ask him what polling stations are legally required to provide to help blind and partially sighted people vote.  Listen to our podcast episode about Making Elections Accessible below.

Listen now!

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Sight Loss Council volunteers engaged MPs at Westminster and shared their 'six to fix' issues facing blind and partially sighted people across the country.

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Find out how to remove barriers and ensure that the democratic rights of blind and partially sighted people are being exercised by implementing the four pillars of accessible voting.

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