The Elections Bill has just passed, including my amendments which will enable blind voters to vote independently and secretly.
Tonight, Monday 25th April, the Elections Bill passed its final stage, Third Reading, in the House of Lords. The Bill will soon receive Royal Assent and pass into law.
Until now, for so many citizens, going to the polling station did NOT mean that they were able to vote secretly or independently.
Imagine having to give the name of your preferred candidate within earshot of others and hearing them sigh in response, or perhaps having to leave the polling station wondering whether your instructions were followed?
These were just some of the experiences reported by voters to the RNIB, prompting the RNIB to launch their #BlindVotersCount campaign.
In response on March 15th I introduced three amendments to the Elections Bill to ensure that all citizens, including blind and partially sighted citizens, would be able to vote independently and secretly.
The amendments dealt with:
– the role of the The Electoral Commission: accessibility of the vote
– accessible polling stations
– accessible voting innovation competition
I was grateful that they were greeted by enthusiastic cross-party support. Lord Blunkett and Lord Low supported the amendments and Lord Cormack urged the Minister to “accept what has been said by those who truly know what they’re talking about” and “move on”.
“Three amendments one simple purpose the accessibility, inclusivity, independence and secrecy of every voters vote cast.”Lord Holmes, House of Lords, 15 March 2022
Following some redrafting, on 6th April at Report Stage, the House of Lords agreed (without a vote) to the amendments I put forward that inserted the wording “independently”, “in relation to voting secretly” and the provision of statutory guidance from the Electoral Commission on how to meet these duties and standards.
I am incredibly proud of these vital changes, which will ensure every elector is enabled to vote independently and in secret. It is 150 years since the passage of The Ballot Act, establishing the fundamental right to a secret vote, it is essential that these Statutory changes come into force, benefiting every voter in the UK.
For the first time, the Electoral Commission will be required to produce Statutory Guidance on the accessibility of the poll. Further, Returning Officers will now have a ‘have regard’ duty in relation to that guidance.
These changes will make the most fundamental of actions in any democratic society, voting, accessible and inclusive for every voter, blind, partially sighted, disabled or non-disabled: there could barely be anything more essential and important.