Wednesday, 6 October 2021
Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government
51. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will carry out an audit of all polling stations to ensure that they are accessible for all and ensure that they carry out any remedial works that are required. [48732/21]
Under electoral law, Returning Officers are responsible for the selection and provision of polling stations at polling places. Section 94 of the Electoral Act 1992, as amended by section 3 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1996, provides that Returning Officers must, where practicable, select buildings for polling stations which are accessible to wheelchair users.
A Working Group on Disability Voting was established by my Department in December 2018 to examine and make recommendations on issues that arise under a range of areas, including improving accessibility to polling stations for voters with physical disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, with the goal of all polling stations being fully accessible as soon as possible. Returning Officers continue to work to reduce the number of inaccessible polling buildings and polling stations. The progress being made will continue to be monitored by the Working Group.
Recognising that people with disabilities have particular needs, my Department endeavours to ensure that the voting process is as accessible and inclusive as possible.
The Electoral Acts provide for a range of measures to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities, including:
- The requirement on local authorities, in making polling schemes, to appoint as polling places areas where at least one polling station will be accessible to wheelchair users;
- The requirement on Returning Officers, where practicable, to provide polling stations which are accessible to wheelchair users and to give public notice of all polling stations which are inaccessible to wheelchair users not later than eight days before polling day. In guidance to Returning Officers, my Department has suggested that consideration should be given to providing suitable ramps in the case of polling stations that cannot be reached without negotiating steps;
- The requirement on Returning Officers to put in place arrangements to facilitate the marking and placing in the ballot box of ballot papers by wheelchair users. In guidance to Returning Officers, my Department has suggested the provision at each polling station of an appropriately located table and chair to facilitate this requirement;
- The requirement on Returning Officers to ensure, where practicable, that the place appointed for the counting of votes is accessible to wheelchair users.
If an elector anticipates difficulty in gaining access to his or her polling station, he or she may apply in writing to the Returning Officer for authorisation to vote at another polling station in the same constituency. Furthermore, a person with a physical disability or illness which prevents him or her from going to the polling station can vote by post if he or she applies to be included in the postal voters list which is drawn up each year as part of the register of electors. A person residing in a hospital, nursing home or similar institution who has a physical disability or illness which prevents them from going to the polling station, can vote at the hospital or nursing home if they apply to be included in the special voters list which is drawn up each year as part of the register of electors.
While comprehensive arrangements are in place to assist participation in the electoral process by individuals with physical disabilities, nonetheless my Department continues to seek to improve these arrangements and to have regard to the special needs of such persons.