Legal action threat over postal voting ‘discrimination’


newslatestA disabled activist is threatening legal action after he was denied an accessible way of voting without having to turn up to the polling station in person.

Graham Kirwan told the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, that he wished to vote by post in this week’s European elections.

He is visually-impaired and does not use Braille and so asked whether he could request his ballot paper on a CD or via a secure email attachment – so he could access it using assistive technology – but the commission told him this was not allowed by law.

He is not allowed to vote online, which would also enable him to vote without having to attend a polling station.

The commission told him that he would have to vote by post, or by proxy – in which he would give someone else permission to vote on his behalf – and that “these are the only forms of absent voting available to electors under electoral law”.

Kirwan, the accessible information spokesman for Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living, has now told the commission that forcing him to attend a polling station instead of allowing him an accessible postal vote was direct discrimination under the Equality Act.

Kirwan, from Dudley, near Birmingham, said: “I wish to have the same independent choices as everyone else and not consistently be forced to rely on others.”

He has now contacted a solicitor for legal advice about whether he might have grounds for a judicial review, and is seeking the support of charities for visually-impaired people for such legal action.

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said there were “no provisions within the current legislation that would allow anyone to vote electronically”.

She said: “We are deeply sympathetic to the problems that Mr Kirwan has experienced; however, the system is designed to protect the integrity of the democratic process.”

She added: “We did advise Mr Kirwan that it’s parliament that sets the law as to who is eligible to vote at elections and which methods people can use.

“The Cabinet Office can advise on any innovations they are planning to help those with a disability cast their vote in future.

“The commission will continue to identify areas where improvements to electoral law and practice are needed to ensure that those entitled to participate in elections are able to do so, and make appropriate recommendations to government.”

But she refused to say whether the commission would ask the government to take action to allow visually-impaired people to vote electronically.

The Cabinet Office has so far failed to comment.

22 May 2014