England & Wales, Global Democracy, devolution and governance, Welfare and equalities

My vote matters: make 2024 accessible voting year

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Pictured: Gáibhin McGranaghan and My Vote My Voice Accessible Voting Champion Rebecca Long-Bailey MP (Salford Eccles)

Gáibhin McGranaghan, Spokesperson at My Vote My Voice, raises concerns about the accessibility of our democratic systems and the issues this causes. My Vote My Voice is working to empower disabled communities by building a coalition of supporters to upskill their understanding, develop easy read resources, and sign an open letter to support accessible voting.

2024 isn’t just an election year. It’s the election year. Voters across 64 countries – including the United Kingdom – will cast their ballots over the next twelve months. Under 49% of the world’s population will use their democratic rights this year to have their say in who governs them next.

But not everyone will be able to exercise these rights.

For far too many disabled people, voting remains an inaccessible and often abstract process, not least for those living with hidden disabilities, such as autism and learning disabilities. During the 2023 English local elections, research from the Electoral Commission found that less than half (40%) of disabled voters surveyed felt that polling station staff were properly trained to assist them when voting. That uptake stands only at 52%, suggesting an alarming lack of awareness among disabled people of the support they’re legally entitled to request.

Of course, it’d be cynical not to acknowledge that progress has been made towards inbuilding accessibility in elections. Yet how can we reconcile these with “major and fundamental defect[s] in our democratic system that many millions of UK citizens face being unable to make their voice heard at election time”? Direct words from Clive Betts MP, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, which recently declared in a report on electoral registration that the current system is inefficient and ineffective. Recent reforms – such as voter ID – have only exacerbated disabled people’s experiences, with Disability Rights UK informing the Committee that many feel unsupported to register to vote, and that they particularly struggle with the lack of variety in communication channels.

From poor working knowledge of their needs and what’s often a last-minute addition of easy read editions of party manifestos, to entrenched ableism and the wholly unnecessary addition of obstacles from the Elections Act 2022 – it isn’t that hard to see why so many feel disengaged from voting.

It’s certainly the case for my brother. At 28 years old, he has as much a right as I or anybody else to have a say in the decisions shaping his community. Yet for him, whose autism is far more profound than mine, the lack of readily available and digestible information about the choices on offer means that elections aren’t just confusing, they’re distressing. Something to endure rather than experience. I imagine it’s much the same for at least some of the 700,000+ other autistic people and over 1.2 million individuals living with learning disabilities in the UK.

It shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be this way.

My Vote My Voice is working to empower autistic people and people with learning disabilities to vote in the next general election. We’re achieving this by building a nationwide coalition of supporters to upskill these communities’ understanding of democracy and the importance of making their voices heard.

We’ve developed a growing bank of easy read resources covering a range of election topics. These include guides about registering to vote, voter ID, and explainers of the different political parties. More than 25 MPs have joined our campaign as Accessible Voting Champions, and over 100 organisations from right across the disability, democracy, and civic society sectors have signed our charter, all pledging to do their part to support accessible voting.

As we enter a new campaign phase during this ‘year of elections’, My Vote My Voice is asking campaigners to step up and help us as we approach the next general election in earnest.

Sign the open letter – call on your local council to sign the My Vote My Voice charter and support us in registering more autistic people and people with learning disabilities to vote.

Together, we can take meaningful action to ensure everyone can have their say and make 2024 accessible voting year.

Pictured: Gáibhin McGranaghan and My Vote My Voice Accessible Voting Champion Rebecca Long-Bailey MP (Salford Eccles)


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