vote for whoever; are rights denied?

I know that the words politics, elections and politicians can produce a huge yawn from many people. Questions of why should we vote, why should we bother and they’re only in it for themselves are comments made by many up and down this country. However, over the next three blog entries, I’m going to look at various stages of the voting process and to suggest that it is a prized and valued right of living in our democracy. I will also highlight the inaccessibility of the process for many visually impaired people and I’ll illustrate that the decision makers and voting officials need to paid heed to the problems that the voting process has caused for us.

Living in a democracy, having the right to vote has to be one of the most prized rights that we hold. Throughout history, we have seen dictatorships across the world crush and deny the rights of their citizens to legitimise or denounce their extreme regimes. By looking at examples of these countries, it does make me proud of having the precious right of voting and at the same time very sad for those who have had this taken away from them by leaders whose insecurity is surrounded by cruelty and repression. As mentioned, there are many examples of these given throughout history and indeed still exist in the world today.

However, having the right to vote doesn’t necessarily mean having the ability to do this accessibly. For many, exercising the right to vote simply means going to a polling station, marking a cross against the candidate of choice and then putting it into the ballot box. For many disabled people; including those of us with visual impairments, the practical aspect of doing this can be fraught with barriers of inaccessibility.

Hopefully, times are a changing, but it’s a bad marker against the principles of democracy that inaccessibility in the voting process still has to be highlighted.

Last Thursday (5th March), a great deal of publicity was given to national voter registration day. This was aimed to encourage people to ensure that they were registered to vote. It got me thinking about the times I’ve tried to register for voting and have come up against unnecessary obstacles. For example,a year ago, I tried to register to vote within the area that I’m currently living. I telephoned the voter registration line and in going through the process with them, I highlighted the fact that I would 1. Need information in alternative formats and 2. Assistance in completing the form. The answers that came back were 1 they didn’t do that and 2. We cannot do that – can’t your carer do it for you? This is even before I could get anywhere near the voting process.

Safe to say my persistence finally made them relent and they registered me over the phone. A form was sent to me but I insisted they put a label just below the place I needed to sign so that I could do this semi-accessibly. I know that others have not been successful and the right to vote is denied at the point of registration.

This is only the start. In my next blog entry, I’m going to reflect on the accessibility of the information sent out by individual candidates and political parties. I will argue that our vote has proven to be something that these people should be aiming for as the success of recent lobbies on various issues has shown that the visually impaired vote counts.