The proportion of polling stations that reached a basic level of accessibility at May’s general election was only slightly higher than the last election five years ago, according to a new survey.
The survey of more than 1,000 polling stations found two thirds (67 per cent) failed to meet at least one of seven basic access criteria, an improvement of just one percentage point since 2005.
And just 59 per cent of polling stations had properly-designed level access into the building, down from 60 per cent in 2005.
The disability charity Scope, which carried out the survey as part of its long-running Polls Apart campaign, said the number reaching basic levels of access (an increase of just two percentage points since 2001) was “very disappointing”.
The access barriers meant many disabled people were unable to cast their vote without assistance and in secret and some were not able to vote at all or could not check their vote had been counted.
Almost half of those disabled people who used postal votes also reported at least one significant access barrier.
Scope called for new laws that would allow councils to use any public or private accessible buildings as polling stations.
It also wants councils to publish a list of the access features of its polling stations before an election, and to carry out annual reviews of polling station access.
Among other recommendations, Scope said local disabled people’s organisations should carry out “mystery shopper” access audits on polling stations, while the Electoral Commission should refer serious cases of discrimination to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, or the equivalent bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It also called on the government to carry out pilots of internet voting.
Ruth Scott, Scope’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “There is a pressing need for clearer accountability over how elections are delivered, to help improve the accessibility of current voting methods, as well as expanding these to include alternative methods.
“Unless this happens disabled people will continue to struggle to exercise their right to vote.”
The Electoral Commission said it would “look at the recommendation in Scope’s report, in light of our statutory duties”, which include “supporting electoral administrators so that they can meet their responsibilities to make elections accessible to disabled people”.
A spokesman for the commission added: “Our recent report on the problems experienced by some voters on polling day highlights the need for better planning by those that run elections.
“Good planning should also, as Scope’s report suggests, include planning to make voting accessible to everyone.”
23 June 2010