COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Scope seeks to hurdle polling station barrier

John Plummer

Scope is running a campaign with the Electoral Commission at this week's local elections to assess the effectiveness of new ways of voting.

Fifty-eight councils in England have agreed to offer alternative voting methods such as text messaging, the internet and touch-screen kiosks.

Scope is urging voters to visit a web site www.pollsapart.org.uk and download a form on which they can provide feedback on the effectiveness of each method. The form can either be handed in at the polls or submitted online.

The mechanisms have been introduced in response to fears that difficulty in getting to polling stations is hampering the democratic rights of people with disabilities. At the 2001 general election, 69 per cent of polling stations were found to be inaccessible to the 8.6 million disabled people in the UK.

"Politics is how we change policies towards disability so if people can't access a polling station this is being undermined," said Scope spokeswoman Emma Guise.

Touch-screen kiosks aim to help the visually impaired and those with hand-eye co-ordination difficulties. Guise said text voting could prove particularly popular with younger people brought up on this method in TV programmes such as Pop Idol.

Scope first teamed up with the Electoral Commission in 2001, a public body established in 2000 to review electoral law.

A Scope survey in 2002 revealed that although 77 per cent of respondents believed postal voting was easier than visiting a polling station, many still had problems with this method.

For the visually impaired, it could be reading the ballot paper, while some disabled people living alone could have difficulties understanding to go about it.

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