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In March 2018, Ireland held a referendum in which people who were blind and vision impaired were able to vote independently and in secret for the very first time. Tactile ballot paper templates were available at every polling station throughout the country.
The introduction of these new tactile ballot paper templates followed the High Court case of Robbie Sinnott of the Blind Legal Alliance who initiated proceedings in 2016 against the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Irish State. The Blind Legal Alliance felt that people who are blind and vision impaired were being deprived of their right to a secret ballot because people had to ask a presiding officer to mark their ballot paper. The case was ultimately won in April 2017 and the courts instructed the Minister to make arrangements to facilitate voters who are blind and vision impaired to mark their ballot papers without assistance.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government were given the task of producing tactile ballot paper templates for all future referenda as well as local, European and presidential elections. A Working Group was set up and NCBI along with other disability organisation were invited to become members.
Three templates have now been developed. Each one has clear and non-decorative lettering, large print, good colour contrast, raised letters, Braille and the cut-out sections have a black border to assist people to find where to mark their vote. The templates will be used on the same ballot paper used by everyone else.
For the referendum template, there were two cut out boxes on the template, one for yes and one for no. At the referendum, the template was placed over the ballot paper by the presiding officer to match the boxes to be marked on the ballot paper and was handed to the voter right way up.
For the presidential election template, there were six cut out boxes, one for each of the six candidates. Again, the template was placed over the ballot paper to match the boxes to be marked on the ballot paper. Voters could also call a free phone number to listen to a list of election candidates. This could be listened to at any time including at home, at the polling station and in the polling booth. Voters could also find a list of candidates on the presidential election website.
Presiding officers were briefed on the different elements of the templates and gave verbal directions to voters before they entered the booth to mark the ballot paper.
For the local and European elections, held in May 2019, there were 20 cut out boxes on the template. The template had flaps over each of the cut outs, so that people could close each one over as they marked the ballot paper. There was also a cut out hole at the top right hand corner of the template, so that voters knew that the template had been placed the right way up on the ballot paper. The presiding officers were advised to stick the template to the ballot paper, to open up all of the flaps on the template and hand it to the voter.
Voters for the local and European elections could find a list of candidates online or they could call a free phone number at any time including at home, at the polling station and in the polling booth on their mobile phone.
The templates were available in all polling stations.
NCBI distributed the templates to each of our local offices around the country, so that people who are blind and vision impaired could “try them out” before the referendum and elections.
Ireland has made so much progress in relation to making voting accessible to people who are blind and vision impaired. It has been a great achievement that should be recognised.
NCBI will continue to sit on the Working Group for Voting, so that further progress can be made. The templates will still be tweaked and finalised as feedback is received following their use. We also hope that an information pack will be produced and sent to people who are blind and vision impaired, so that each person can try out and become familiar with the three templates in the comfort of their own home. NCBI remains of the view that efforts in Ireland also need to begin around telephone and other forms of electronic voting as it has great potential.
If you would like more information about the tactile ballot paper templates, please contact the NCBI Policy and Advocacy Team on email@example.com.
By the National Council of the Blind of Ireland, NCBI