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'Outstanding achievement': High Court ruling paves the way for blind people to vote in secret

The High Court ruled yesterday in favour of a man who had argued for his right to vote in private.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A HIGH COURT ruling which paves the way for blind people to be given the opportunity to vote secretly for the first time has been labelled an “outstanding achievement” which will increase equality.

CEO of the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) Chris White said that the High Court had yesterday ruled “in favour of democracy”.

White was responding to yesterday’s decision by the High Court in favour of blind man Robbie Sinnott who had taken a case against the state.

Sinnott took the case against the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in 2014, asking the State to introduce measures that would enable him as a blind person to vote in secret.

The case had received a positive result in November when the state introduced regulations to provide for secret voting for blind people during referenda.

However, Sinnott had argued for changes which would allow visually impaired people to vote in secret in local, general and European elections as well as in referenda.

Yesterday, he scored a key victory when Mr Justice Tony O’Connor ruled that the minister had a duty to provide a secret ballot if possible for all voters “as far as is reasonably practicable”.

“Trusted friend”

Until now, visually impaired people have only been able to vote with a “trusted friend” of with assistance from a presiding officer who could mark the ballot paper on their behalf.

However, this system denies the visually impaired person the right to cast a secret ballot. The blind person can also have no way of knowing that the person assisting them had marked the ballot paper in the way that they had requested.

In other countries there is tactile ballot template to allow blind people to cast their vote in private. This device is placed over the ballot paper and includes Braille and embossed numbers, with a cut-out square over the slot where the ballot is marked.

Accessible voting is also possible through telephone and internet voting in some countries.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie following yesterday’s ruling, White commended Robbie Sinnott for taking the case to against the State.

“He’s a very brave and very courageous person,” said White.

He should be absolutely applauded for standing up for a whole community.

Speaking yesterday, Sinnott, who is a founding member of the Blind Legal Alliance, said that the ruling was “very important”.

“Visually impaired people make up 5% of the Irish population, which constitutes a large minority of people in this country,” he said.

That makes today’s victory very important, given that we must frequently overcome serious barriers to access even our basic rights.

Sinnott was supported in his efforts by the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) and the NCBI.

White said that representatives from the Department will return to the High Court on 23 April to explain to the judge how they will implement his ruling.

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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