By Agatka Cienciala.
One of the interesting and unexpected side effects of moving away from home is that I found out, or rather was reaffirmed, in the knowledge of who I am and what interests me.
One of the things that I am passionate about is politics.
I love the creative nature of policy making, the mechanics of party structure, the different motivations people have for becoming involved with politics. But most of all I love getting others passionate about politics and encouraging them to get involved. I believe that politics is or rather should be, inclusive – seeking to represent all members of society. This, after all, is objective of democracy.
But how can I encourage my blind and partially sighted friends to get involved with politics – to vote, when there is no secure way for them to do so? In fact, how does it make me feel that, as a partially-sighted 18 year old, I will not be able to vote without assistance at the next general election?
The truth is that blind and partially sighted people, together with other disabled people, are the biggest group in our society still not to have the possibility of voting, using the secret ballot. This surely is not right.
But recently things have changed, for those in New Zealand at least. On Saturday 20 September 2014 blind, partially sighted or otherwise disabled voters were able to cast their vote using Telephone dictation voting. Thomas Bryan of the Blind Foundation in New Zealand was one of these people. Up until this year he had taken someone with him to the polling booth or had to ask one of the staff to assist him in his voting. ‘I have to trust that whoever assists me does what I ask them to.’
This year Mr Bryan set up a voting profile with a secret code and was then able to phone the telephone voting service, give this code, have the ballot paper read out to him and vote anonymously. Once he had voted, someone else then checked his vote had been cast correctly by reading his selection back to him.
Mr Bryan described the experience as ‘most liberating’. ‘While I still needed to use the phone to talk to the team to cast my vote, I felt I was very much in control and the cross checking of my vote gave me confidence in the system’. ‘Now we just need to find a way to remove the people out of the mix and vote via touch tone phone or online or via app’.
With the wide availability of technology that would make the secret ballot possible for disabled voters I believe that there is no excuse for this flaw in our electoral system to remain. I for one, would be delighted to be able to make my mark in the next general election whilst practising my right to a secret ballot. I would also love to be able to encourage my blind and partially sighted friends and the rest of the two million blind and partially sighted people in the UK, to take part in this democratic process, knowing that their needs will be taken care of.
I trust and fully expect that the political machine will pick up on this huge possibility of engaging more of the electorate and those steps will be taken to implement some of the innovative ideas that would make this possible.
Agatka Cienciala is a former Youth Forum member of the Royal London Society for the Blind (RLSB).
The RLSB Youth Forum support the introduction of an online voting option in elections and have launched a campaign asking for a secret ballot for vision impaired people. You can support their #votewithoutlimits campaign and sign their e-petition here.
This was originally posted on the RLSB website here.