Report on Voting Trials for People with Sight Loss

Updated: March 2015
On the left is a photo of a mock Irish ballot with no tactile guide; on the right is a photo of the same ballot but with a tactile guide

Exceutive Summary:

In June 2014 the National Disability Authority carried out trials of three ways for people with sight loss to vote independently. At present, people with sight loss usually get help from a family member, friend or polling staff.

The three voting methods tested were:

  • Voting by phone – casting vote by giving verbal instructions to a telephone operator
  • Voting using a ‘ballot template’ – a ‘stick-on’ device with Braille, raised lettering and cut out sections to find where to mark the vote
  • Voting by computer – using a computer, or tablet or smart-phone to cast the vote using an application designed for that purpose

The overall results of the trials indicate that there is no single solution that is likely to work for most voters with sight loss. Ballot templates were usable for most voters for a referendum ballot paper and a short election ballot paper. As the election ballot paper and number of choices grew in size, the template was less usable and reliable.

Voting by computer worked for some voters, probably those who are comfortable and experienced in using screen reading tools. Some people with sight loss, especially older people, would be unlikely to be comfortable with such technologies. It may also face credibility and political issues, given the history of electronic voting in Ireland.

Telephone voting was usable for most voters, but presents many challenges in allowing the voter to be certain that their vote has been cast in line with their intentions.

Distribution of ballot templates is likely to be a straightforward and relatively low-cost option. Provision of an option for computerised or telephone voting raises issues around the security and integrity of the ballot, as well as potentially significant logistical and cost challenges. There are 7,500 or so polling places, which range from large suburban schools to small community buildings serving isolated communities. The feasibility of equipping these with technology to print-off an electronically-generated or phone-generated ballot would be significant. ‘Electronic vote casting’ uses computers or telephones to generate a printed ballot paper, which goes into the same ballot box and count process as all other papers. The National Disability Authority recommends that the security and integrity, logistics and feasibility of ‘electronic vote casting’ is explored further by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, and be discussed further in partnership with the National Disability Authority and relevant disability organisations.

The National Disability Authority also recommends that the option of a ballot template be offered for a future referendum ballot, and the outcome and acceptability evaluated.


This report is also available at the National Disability Authority's research page


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