The independent elections watchdog is considering setting up a system to try to prevent disabled people being deprived of their vote on the day of the general election.
The Electoral Commission has been in talks with the disability charity Scope about using a telephone hotline that disabled people could call if they were prevented from voting by staff at polling stations.
The commission could then phone the local authority involved and order it to allow the disabled person to vote.
Abigail Lock, Scope’s head of advocacy and campaigns, said the charity – which has been campaigning for more accessible elections since 1992 – had heard from disabled people at previous elections who were turned away at polling stations, often on the grounds of their supposed “incapacity”.
Scope is also working with the Electoral Commission to draw up a letter that lays out a disabled person’s voting rights and could be downloaded from the internet and taken to the polling station in case of an obstructive election official.
Lock said: “On election day itself, should the worst happen, we are going to work with the Electoral Commission to create a letter that sets out what a disabled person’s rights are so they should not be turned away.”
If election staff will still not let a person vote, Scope is hoping they will be able to ring the EC hotline.
Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “Scope have asked us to think about how we might use our helpline on the day if people are having particularly bad experiences.”
Scope has also written to every local authority with a checklist of what they should be doing to make voting accessible.
The charity is also asking disabled people to write to their council to ask what it is doing to ensure polling stations are accessible.
And they are asking disabled people to take part in a survey of polling station access on the day of the election.
At the last general election in 2005, a Polls Apart survey of 2,000 polling stations found 68 per cent had at least one access barrier, such as information in inaccessible formats or a lack of ramps.
An early day motion (number 925) backing Polls Apart and calling for disabled people to have the same access to Britain’s democracy as non-disabled people, has been put down by the disabled Labour MP Anne Begg and signed by more than 100 MPs.
For more information, visit www.pollsapart.org.uk
10 March 2010