Government to consider new voting methods for sight loss

FF TD introduces bill on electronically assisted voting for those with vision problems

Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney has introduced a bill in the Dáil to allow electronic devices for people with sight difficulties so that they can vote independently. File  photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney has introduced a bill in the Dáil to allow electronic devices for people with sight difficulties so that they can vote independently. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Proposals for electronically assisted voting are to be considered by the Government.

Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney introduced a bill in the Dáil to allow electronic devices for people with sight difficulties so that they could vote independently.

Mr Keaveney said that the Central Statistics Office (CSO) recorded some 48,000 adults in the State in 2006 who had substantial problems in seeing, more than half of whom were aged over 65.

The Galway TD insisted that what was proposed in his Electoral (Amendment) Bill “is emphatically not electronic voting”.

He called on the Government to follow the practice in Australia and the state of Oregon in the US, where machinery is used to facilitate those with sight loss.

He said that these systems utilise “software on a computer or a telephone to generate a printed ballot paper that records the voter’s preference”.

Mr Keaveney said that “critically [this] is distinguished from electronic voting, by virtue of the fact that it is printed on paper and goes into the same collection and counting procedure as every other vote. The vote is not recorded or counted electronically.”

Minister of State for the Environment Paudie Coffey said the Government agreed with the principle of advancing the needs of voters with particular difficulties and would not oppose the legislation.

Mr Coffey said that electronically assisted voting would require careful consideration but the department’s disability plans supported the examination of independent voting.

He said the department had been considering the use of templates made of card or light plastic, more commonly known as tactile voting devices, which are used during elections in the UK and other European countries.

He said that the National Disability Authority had undertaken trials on the use of tactile voting devices in 2014 but found that the current generation was “ unlikely to provide a workable solution under the Irish single transferable vote system”.

However, the authority had recommended the department should use them at referendums where there were only two choices and that this was under consideration.

The authority also said that older voters with sight loss “would be unlikely to be comfortable with such technologies”.

Mr Coffey said the department were not aware of the particular device Mr Keaveney had in mind but knew that some jurisdictions used similar devices for voters with visual impairment.

Alternative methods

Mr Keaveney noted that the National Council for the Blind in Ireland has called for the implementation of alternative methods of voting for those with sight loss.

“Complaints have been made to both the Ombudsman and the Irish Human Rights Commission about the inaccessibility of the voting procedure for persons with sight loss,” he said.

Under the legislation, provision is retained to allow voting with a companion and it removes the word “blind” from electoral law.

The Minister said changes had already been made to ballot papers following the Seanad referendum in 2013.

The department consulted the National Adult Literacy Association and the National Council for the Blind after concerns were raised about confusion among voters about the design, text and language of the paper used.

The changes included the use of different and larger font sizes, with “better use of upper and lower case letters and the use of bold lettering and shading”.

Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley also welcomed the bill and said much work had obviously gone into it.

“It is obvious those drafting the bill consulted closely with people who have sight loss and put a great deal of consideration into it.”