Telephone helplines staffed by voting rights experts will help disabled people who risk losing their right to vote at the general election.
Staff working on the Electoral Commission’s national helplines on election day will be ready to help disabled people who are blocked from voting because of access barriers at their local polling station.
Since the last general election in 2005, new laws say local authorities should make sure their polling stations do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.
The disability charity Scope – through its Polls Apart campaign – has worked with the Electoral Commission to draw up an online guide to disabled people’s voting rights.
The guide includes information on the legal rights to request assistance to mark the ballot paper, view a large-print version of the ballot paper and gain assistance if they cannot enter the polling station.
It advises anyone who has problems voting on election day to contact their local authority. But if that doesn’t work, staff on the helpline will try to enable them to make their vote count.
Abigail Lock, Scope’s head of advocacy and campaigns, said she hoped the helpline would “raise confidence” among disabled people preparing to vote.
She said: “It is something a number of disabled people have said they have wanted in the past, an extra avenue of support, and support gives confidence. That’s why I think it will be really important.”
But she added: “We are hoping that improved access will mean few people will need to resort to calling the helpline.
“Local authorities are more aware now because they have to review their polling stations for access and because of the awareness we have raised through Polls Apart.”
Scope is hoping disabled people will post their views about their voting experiences on the Polls Apart website, and fill out a Polls Apart survey form.
Lock added: “It’s really important that as many disabled people as possible fill out the survey so we can get a clearer picture of what has happened since the last general election.
“We do need to identify those local authorities that are breaching their duties. If we have to name and shame, that’s what we will do.”
To download the guide or fill out the survey form, visit: www.pollsapart.org.uk/pages/voters.php
The Electoral Commission helplines are: 020 7271 0592 and 020 7271 0728.
20 April 2010