This evening I went to my local polling station, as did many other UK citizens, to cast my vote in the 2010 General Election. Unlike most others though, because I am blind I had to use a tactile template to lay over the ballot paper to enable me to cast my vote independently.
For those who have never seen one of these templates, I will do my best to describe it. It is a long, narrow plastic sheet with numbered flaps down the right hand side. Each flap has a tactile number and can be hinged back on itself. Each flap also comes to a point. The template has a sticky back which can be stuck to the form, in a similar way to a post-it note. the idea is that the template is placed with the flaps laying over the boxes on the form. the blind voter peals back the relevant flap and marks the form directly between the flap above and the flap below. Here is where the problem lies in my opinion: the template is only about a third of the width of the ballot paper and open to error.
On arrival at the polling station, it appeared that the member of staff who helped me, had no experience of the template and hadn’t read the instructions that came with it. He wasn’t even aware that the back was sticky, I had to peel off the paper that covered it. He first tried to take me to the end of the table where he had been sitting for me to cast my vote there, in full view of everyone else. I explained that this was not acceptable so he reluctantly took me to a booth. After trying to just lay the template over the form without sticking it, he eventually stuck it down and left. I marked my paper, put it in the box and left.
It was only whilst walking home with my partner that we compared notes. It appeared that my template had been placed fairly close to the left hand edge of the form, and my partner’s had been nearer the middle of the form. We phoned a friend and asked where the boxes appear on the ballot paper and were told that they are down the right hand side.
It would therefore appear that both our ballot papers are spoilt and we haven’t had a vote in this very important election.
If I never campaign for anything else in my life, I’m determined to get my voice heard on this one.
If you read this, I would urge you, please circulate it as widely as possible. I want as many people to realise how open to error the voting system is for blind people.
Our right to independence relies wholly on a sighted person to line the template up for us, and we have no way of checking that the vote has been cast properly.
I wonder how many other blind people’s ballot papers have been unknowingly spoilt today?