Council pays £2k in compensation to blind woman over 2015 election breaches

A local authority has settled a claim brought by a woman who is registered as blind over alleged breaches of her right to vote at local and general elections in 2015, it has been reported.

Rachael Andrews, from Norwich, launched legal proceedings against Broadland District Council, saying it had failed to make the necessary arrangements to allow her to vote independently and in secret in the 2015 general election.

This was after she had attended her local polling station on 7 May 2015 with her husband, who is also blind, and her mother-in-law, who is fully sighted, to vote.

Her lawyers, Leigh Day, said the Representation of the People Act 1983 states that polling stations must be equipped with a device that enables blind and partially sighted people to vote without assistance. The current device used to meet these requirements is the Tactile Voting Device (‘TVD’).

Ms Andrews asked for the TVD at her polling station but the presiding officer initially said he had never heard of one. He went to look for one but returned saying he did not have one.

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Leigh Day said Ms Andrews' mother-in-law then had to read out the candidate names to her and had to mark her votes on her ballot papers on her behalf.

Ms Andrews was required to tell her mother-in-law aloud who she wished to vote for, compromising her statutory duty and right to vote in secret, and compromising her right to vote independently, the law firm said.

Ms Andrews complained to the council but did not receive a satisfactory response. Her claim was supported by the RNIB.

Leigh Day argued that the failure to provide a TVD was in breach of the Equality Act 2010. Ms Andrews’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had also been breached, it added.

In addition to paying £2,000 in compensation Broadland is also said to have issued an apology and promised improvements.

Kate Egerton of Leigh Day said: “My client, as a person with a disability, feels very strongly about government benefits and social care reforms, and sees it is her duty to be proactive in trying to change things for the better for other people with disabilities.

“She is therefore passionate about her right to vote, and believes that blind and visually impaired people should be afforded the same right to vote confidently, independently and in secret that fully sighted people have.

“However, there was nothing independent or secret about her experience of voting in the 2015 elections, which she found humiliating and distressing.”

Ms Andrews said: “I felt that the polling station staff didn’t care that I would not be able to cast my vote independently – I felt like I didn’t exist and that my vote counted less than everyone else’s.

“The fact that I had to chase for a response and resort to legal action to seek redress added to my feelings that my complaint and my inability to vote in private was not taken seriously by my local authority.”

Broadland District Council has been asked for comment.

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