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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 15:44 GMT
Blind voters get secret ballot
Ballot Box
Blind people will be able to vote in secret
Visually impaired people will be able to vote in secret in future elections thanks to a new invention launched by the government.

The gadget - a special template which can be attached to the ballot paper - will enable Britain's 1.7 million blind and partially-sighted people to back their chosen party without the help of another person.

The changes are part of a wider package of measures ... and make it simpler and more convenient for people to vote

Mike O'Brien
The "tactile voting device" features large-scale numbers and Braille lettering which voters can compare with extra-large ballot papers displayed at polling stations.

Blind people who would rather have help from election officials or from a friend will still be able to request it.

The new arrangements were unveiled by Home Office minister Mike O'Brien.

"The changes are part of a wider package of measures such as rolling registration and postal votes on demand, which modernise our electoral system and make it simpler and more convenient for people to vote," he said.

Gadget welcomed

The Royal National Institute for the Blind's policy director, Fazilet Hadi, welcomed the new gadget saying it was an important step forward.

"The new ballot template, plus provision for large print at polling stations, are important steps towards ensuring that the fundamental right to a secret ballot is guaranteed for anyone with a sight problem," she said.

At the last general election only 60% of visually-impaired people voted compared with 71.5% of the total UK electorate.

An RNIB survey suggested this was because more than 50% found voting too difficult.

The plastic templates, called the Selector, will be available at the 3 May local elections and the general election, which is predicted for the same date.

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