Why are we still disabling Democracy?

by  Nathalie Hulbert.


St George’s Church, Tameside being used as a polling station in 2010

Constitutionally, the Government are not obliged to call another General Election until 2020. According to Theresa May, the British public “do not have an appetite” for one.

That being said, I am of the opinion that just about anything could happen. Few of us predicted that by July 2016 Britain would no longer be in the EU, that there would be a mass exodus of Brexit’s key political proponents, and that David Cameron would step down, paving the way for an interim PM, Larry the cat (who, by the way, had as much of an electoral mandate as his successor).

Whether we have another election in four months or four years, we can certainly use this period of relative calm to review our archaic voting system. I touched upon the various arguments for online voting in my previous blog post. Now I am going to elaborate on the most troubling one.

Disabled people are being denied equal voting rights.

Within the UK, disabled people make up 20% of the voting population, and are being failed by a system which simply does not accommodate their needs.

Following the 2010 General Election, a study conducted by Scope, found that 67% of polling stations had barriers to voting, including a lack of accessible booths, wheelchair ramps or hearing loops for deaf people.

A more recent study by Mencap found that  1 in 5 of the people who did register to vote, were turned away because of their learning disability.

Scope pic 3Scope pic 1

Scope pic 2
Source: Scope report- Polls Apart.2010

Setbacks from the get-go.

For many disabled voters, challenges begin further ahead of election day.

We need to consider people with serious mental health issues. There are some people in this country who are severely depressed and struggle enough to manage day to day tasks. Are we going to penalise them if they do not register at their current address two weeks in advance?

We need to consider people with learning disabilities, who may struggle to comprehend the complex registration conditions. Mencap found 60% of people with learning disabilities didn’t register to vote in the last election because they found the process of registering too difficult.

We need to consider people who suffer from agoraphobia, people with severe social anxiety, people with developmental disorders.  For some of these sufferers, queues and crowds at the polling station are not just a minor inconvenience. They are a personal hell.

We need to consider people with a physical impairment, who cannot simply pop down to the polling station.What about those living in Central London, who aren’t near one of the 25% of tube stations that have step-free access?

We need to consider whether we can call ourselves a Democracy whilst the above issues continue to exist.

” For many disabled people the experience of voting hasn’t improved. Many are often left with a feeling of being disenfranchised because of the various access barriers they face in exercising their right to vote. This, together with the under-representation of disabled people in all areas of public and political life, sends a clear message that progress must be accelerated”- John Bercow. Speaker of the House of Commons

To sum up so far, at least 20% of the UK population will have great difficulty registering to vote, getting to the polling station itself, or receiving the same privacy and respect as non-disabled people when casting their vote.

So how can we address all of their various hindrances all in one go?

A Digital Democracy for all.

If we had the option of voting online disabled people could vote from the privacy of their own home.

We could ensure audio options for blind people.

We could eliminate the complexity and stringency of the current registration process, making it easier for those with learning disabilities and mental health problems.

We could ensure that people who are mentally, developmentally or physically impaired won’t have to travel to a polling station which may or may not provide them with adequate access and privacy.

We could ensure, for the first time, equal voting rights for the entire British electorate.

People voting in the EU Referendum

US, Brazilian, Belgium, Estonian, Australian, Spanish and Indian Governments all use online voting in at least one of their electoral processes.

According to Priit Vinkel, chief of staff at the Estonia’s National Electoral Committee, at Estonia’s last General Election “the real impact was on ‘borderline’ voters. People with disabilities used e-voting more than average”.

More recently, Barcelona’s Municipal Institute of Persons with Disabilities (IMPD) utilised online voting technology to to elect their representatives on the IMPD Governing Council, as part of an initiative to ensure confidentiality and participation.

“The successful deployment of Scytl Online Voting technology allowed members of the Municipal Institute of Persons with Disabilities (IMPD) to vote independently and with full privacy for the first time ever. The uptake of the online voting channel proved highly successful in the community with 47% of voters using the online voting channel” -Leticia Barcia, Scytl Online Voting Technology.

What now?

So it’s not just a theory.  Governments around the world are proving that online voting not only works, but also encourages participation from disabled voters. This is because for the first time in history, they are being provided with the same levels of access, independence and privacy as the rest of the electorate.

A Government petition for online voting ends tomorrow.  There is still time to support the cause. Sign the petition, like and share on your social media pages. Do it, for Democracy’s sake.


This article was originally posted on by Nathalie Hulbert, Digital Content Director at WebRoots Democracy.



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