Blind woman’s court fight for right to vote on her own

The Herald - - NEWS - SAM TOBIN

A BLIND woman has been given the go-ahead to chal­lenge the Gov­ern­ment in the High Court over its al­leged fail­ure to make ar­range­ments al­low­ing her to vote in­de­pen­dently.

Rachael An­drews claims the tac­tile vot­ing de­vice (TVD), which fits over the bal­lot pa­per to al­low a per­son to mark an X in a par­tic­u­lar place, does not al­low blind peo­ple to vote with­out as­sis­tance as they still need some­one to read the names of the can­di­dates and the or­der in which they ap­pear on the bal­lot.

At a hear­ing in Lon­don this week, Mr Jus­tice Jeremy Baker said her claim that the de­vice was un­law­ful was ar­guable and granted per­mis­sion for a ju­di­cial re­view.

David Lock QC, for Ms An­drews, told the judge the de­vice needed to en­able blind or par­tially sighted vot­ers to vote “with­out any need for as­sis­tance from the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer or any com­pan­ion”, which it cur­rently did not.

The Gov­ern­ment ar­gued the claim was aca­demic as it was ad­dress­ing the is­sue and had pub­lished a re­sponse to a con­sul­ta­tion in Au­gust.

But Mr Lock said that re­sponse was “only pub­lished af­ter the pro­ceed­ings were com­menced” and there was “no pub­lished timetable for new rules to be pub­lished” and “no guar­an­tee that there will be any change to the rules be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion”.

Ms An­drews, 45, and from Nor­wich, suc­cess­fully set­tled a pre­vi­ous claim against Broad­land District Coun­cil for fail­ing to have the TVD avail­able for the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion.

She said: “I have al­ways voted in gen­eral elec­tions.

“I see it as a very im­por­tant civic duty and feel very strongly that I should sim­ply be af­forded the same right to vote in­de­pen­dently and in se­cret as ev­ery­one else.

“De­spite all the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances now avail­able that en­able peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to lead an in­de­pen­dent life, I find it im­mensely de­press­ing that, when it comes to vot­ing, one of the most im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­i­ties a per­son has in a democ­racy, the only aid avail­able to a blind voter is a piece of plas­tic that doesn’t re­ally work.

“I am keen that the Gov­ern­ment stops drag­ging its feet and takes ac­tion to al­low me to vote in­de­pen­dently and se­cretly in time for the next gen­eral elec­tion.”

Her solic­i­tor Sean Hum­ber, head of Leigh Day’s hu­man rights de­part­ment, said: “The pro­vi­sions made for blind vot­ers by the gov­ern­ment are quite sim­ply not fit for pur­pose.”

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