People with visual impairments use new “tactile voting” system for first time

24 May 2018

Tactile ballot #2

Minister must commit to introduce arrangements for proportional representation elections too

The recent constititional referendum on the Eight Amendment to the Constitution was the first opportunity for people with a visual impairment to cast their vote in secret using a new tactile voting template.

In previous votes, people with sight loss had to vote with the assistance of a ‘trusted friend’ or get help from the presiding officer in order to exercise their franchise. This meant that their privacy was compromised and that they were denied a secret ballot, an essential feature of a democratic vote.

It also meant that they had no way of verifying that the person who had assisted them had marked the ballot paper in the way they requested. 

Last year, Wexford man Robbie Sinnott, who is visually impaired, won a landmark High Court case which found that the Minister for Planning and Local Government had a duty to provide arrangements to guarantee a secret ballot as far as is reasonably practicable. The Minister subsequently made the arrangements for the referendum. 

A tactile voting device, or tactile ballot template is placed over the ballot paper and includes Braille and embossed numbers, with a cut out square over the slot where the ballot is marked. The device is removed from the ballot paper, which is folded and placed in the ballot box.

Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) through its Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) facilitated getting legal support for Mr Sinnott.  Eversheds Sutherland Solicitors represented Mr Sinnott during a nine day hearing.

Robbie Sinnott said;

“Using the tactile voting ballot was a huge moment for people who are blind or vision impaired. I’d been looking forward to for years. Previously, when voting I had to compromise my privacy which was never acceptable to me. I have a constitutional right to vote in secret and just because I’m visually impaired shouldn’t alter this. For the first time, I no longer felt that my entitlement to vote was lesser than somebody else’s who just happens to be able to see.

This case also shows how the law can be used to fight injustice and exclusion for disadvantaged groups in society. Every day, people from marginalised groups must overcome serious obstacles to access even our basic rights. However, with the right guidance, you can use the legal system to ensure that you enjoy the same fundamental rights as everyone else.”

FLAC CEO, Eilis Barry said;

“FLAC through PILA was delighted to support Robbie during the case. We have now seen the impact of this important judgment as members of the blind and visually impaired community were able to fully exercise their constitutional right to vote in secret, which is a fundamental part of democracy.

However there are currently no equivalent measures in place for elections where candidates are selected by proportional representations.

With a general election likely this year and local and European elections scheduled for next year, we’re urging the Minister to put these arrangements in place as a priority. There are currently over 50,000 people with sight loss in Ireland. Templates are currently in use in Austria, Germany and the UK and have the advantage of being cost effective and low tech.