Category Archives: Blogs

Sightless barriers to voting choice

Here’s a blog from Ian Beverley, sharing his personal experience of voting in an election…

It cannot be stressed enough but the corner stone of a democratic society is having the right to use and exercise a vote with elections and referendums. True, the confusion of who to vote for can put many people off using this, but its important to remember that many throughout the world have and will probably still die fighting to have this right.

However, in my own experience, there is a problem in exercising this right and this centres around being engaged in the whole voting process. Some may say that there is nothing complex about joining in on this, but over the years I have experienced barriers that have at times put me off voting altogether. Why? Well, the practicalities of accessing the registration forms, candidate campaign literature, ballot papers and polling stations themselves as a totally blind person has been akin to walking through quick sand and also fighting against a very strong head wind – okay a bit overdramatic but I’m sure it makes the point in the end.

Engaging all areas of society in the voting process is essential to further strengthening our democracy. In the past (I have lived in a number of areas up and down the country), these barriers have included print registration forms being thrust at me and being told to fill them in; even though I pointed out my sight loss and lack of support in being able to do this. I could have also filled several skips with the amount of printed election information that I have received through the various doors that I have lived behind. It wasn’t until I started living in Mirfield that I actually had election candidates come to the door to campaign for my vote.

Polling stations, ah yes, now they have come in different shapes, sizes and locations and each with their varying levels of accessibility and assistence. Honestly, I would prefer to go in person to cast my democratic ‘X’, but again, I would have done this consistently if I’d known where to go, had the confidence of receiving assistance when I was there and also knowing that I could do this in private. Accepting the right kind of help is great and I certainly encourage it, but telling someone who you want to vote for is something that I would prefer not to do.

Many groups, who are eligible to vote, are missed out of this democratic process simply because the access barriers are not fully understood. Politicians and decision makers need to understand that engaging people in the voting process is crucial to enhancing democracy and true representation. Additionally, to clear any misunderstanding and misperceptions, the best thing to do is to talk honestly which in turn will create a greater understanding where access is delivered effectively and realistically.

I want to vote on May the 7th because I fully believe in the democratic process. I’m going to try and do so, but the problem of finding my polling station and what I will find there when I eventually reach it is playing very much on my mind.

Ian Beverley
twitter @ianbev

Local Democracy for Everyone – free events

Local Democracy for Everyone is a series of free events in Huddersfield from 5th to 7th February 2015, for anyone who is interested in local democracy.

Radical Heritage Trail

Radical Heritage Trail

Saturday 7th February 2015
1.30pm to 3.30pm

Venue: Meet at the Harold Wilson statue in St. George’s Square, Huddersfield

Discover Huddersfield’s rich heritage of radical politics in this free guided walk.

Starting from the Harold Wilson statue in St George’s Square, this free guided trail will visit town centre sites that are associated with the Luddites, Chartists, the early days of the Labour Party, the anti-war movement during World War One and lots more.

The walk will be led by Cyril Pearce, author of ‘Comrades in Conscience’ which tells the story of Huddersfield’s conscientious objectors, whose opposition to the Great War earned Huddersfield the reputation of being ‘a hotbed of pacifism’.

The walk will last up to two hours and you’ll have an opportunity to drop in to the Media Centre at the end for a hot drink and to see the conclusion of the “We’re not in Westminster any more” event which will bring together advocates for redesigning local democracy.

This event is being run in collaboration with Discover Huddersfield and Huddersfield Local History Society.

PechaKucha NightPechaKucha
Friday 6th February 2015
7pm to 8pm

Venue: Café Ollo, The Media Centre, Northumberland Street, Huddersfield

Join us for PechaKucha Night from 7pm to 8pm at The Media Centre in Huddersfield to hear about people’s passions and interests – or share your own. Each speaker will talk for 6 minutes 40 seconds each, following a “20 slides for 20 seconds” format. The evening includes some of our local democratic history. Free admission. Licensed bar. Everyone welcome. This event is being run in collaboration with The Media Centre.

Democracy of Print bannerDemocracy of Print
Saturday 7th February 2015
10am to 12 noon & 1pm to 3pm

Venue: The Media Centre lobby, Northumberland Street, Huddersfield

Join in making a printed banner inspired by Huddersfield’s radical heritage. From the Luddites and the Chartists to the present day, printmaking has played an important part in the development of democracy. Now it’s your turn!

Local artist Amy Hirst will be helping us to make a printed banner to capture our conversations about local democracy as part of the “We’re not in Westminster” conference on 7th February. You can drop in to add yourself to the banner and make your own campaign badge to take home.

National Voter Registration Day

 

National Voter Registration Day
5th & 7th February 2015

Our Local Democracy for Everyone events are happening in the same week as National Voter Registration Day. Many local organisations are campaigning to get people registered to vote this week – especially younger people who are massively under-represented on the electoral register.

You can drop in to register to vote at many venues across Kirklees on Thursday 5th February, including at Kirklees Libraries (it’s late night opening in Huddersfield), at Customer Service Centres and at a special mobile hub outside Huddersfield Bus Station. Or visit the elections outreach team in the lobby of The Media Centre on Saturday 7th February, from 10am to 12 noon & 1pm to 3pm.

You can find out more about all these events at:
Local Democracy for Everyone – What’s on

Our favourite polling station sign

Our favourite polling station sign

Ballot boxes are on the move…

Andrea collecting her ballot boxes
This afternoon we went along to Huddersfield Town Hall with Andrea to talk to her about the role of the Presiding Officer. Andrea will be managing the polling station in New Street, Milnsbridge tomorrow. This afternoon she has been carefully checking the contents of her ballot boxes and stationery box. Together these boxes contain all the paperwork she’ll need to run her polling station tomorrow – everything from voting papers and signage to the seals that will close the ballot boxes when voting ends at 10pm. If you live in Milnsbridge, she’d really like you to come along and vote tomorrow – even if you turn up to vote at one minute before 10pm (somebody usually does).

You can find your local polling station on the Kirklees web site:

Polling stations

It’s election week…

postal votes being opened

We’ve started election week 2014 with a visit to the opening of the postal votes. The elections staff have been hard at work for weeks getting everything ready for the Local and European elections on 22nd May. The work doesn’t just start on polling day – it’s a huge operation. For example, the process of opening all the postal vote envelopes takes several days and the work is already well under way.

Are you a postal voter? Remember to return your postal vote so that it can be counted. Postal vote envelopes can also be handed in at any Kirklees polling station on Thursday 22nd May. Votes can be accepted right up until the close of polls at 10pm.

First results coming in

Almondbury 2012 result on the plasma screenThe first results for the local elections in Kirklees are starting to come in.

The Liberal Democrats have held Almondbury.

The Conservatives have gained Lindley from the Liberal Democrats.

Labour have held Dewsbury East.

Labour have held Ashbrow.

Labour heve held Batley East.

The Liberal Democrats have held Cleckheaton.

The Green Party have gained Kirkburton from the Conservatives.

The Green Party have held Newsome.

Waiting for the results

Community reporters at the count

Community reporters at the count – photo by Steve Tuck

We’re here at Huddersfield Sports Centre awaiting the results of the 2012 local elections in Kirklees.

Looks like low turnout might mean results sooner rather than later.

 

In the meantime, the candidates are all busy observing the counting, but we’re hoping to speak to some of them soon.

Have you visited your polling station yet?

Polling Stations in Denby Dale

Denby Dale polling stations – Election Tales on Flickr

It’s election day and the polling stations have been open since 7am. It only takes a couple of minutes to vote, and your polling station will not be far from where you live.

Did you know that there are almost 200 polling stations across Kirklees, with several in each ward?


Elections staff have been working hard getting all the polling stations set up ready for the 7am start. There’s a Presiding Officer in charge of each venue, making sure that everything is done correctly.

This morning, our Polling Station Inspectors are out and about double checking that all is well at the polling stations. So you can be sure that when you arrive to cast your vote, it won’t take long.

Elections staff are also there to support you if you haven’t voted before – don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure about anything.

Tactile voting

I bumped into David on the bus home today. He told me that he’s given up on postal voting because for him it’s a bit of a faff, getting the form filled in and having it witnessed. He said that he would “see how he gets on at the polling station” this time instead.

David is registered blind, so a standard ballot paper is no good for him. I asked what’s provided at the polling station to make things easier for visually impaired voters.

He told me that there’s a template sheet that sits over the top of the ballot paper, with a series of holes corresponding to the spaces where voters can place their X.

A tactile voting templateThe boxes are numbered on the sheet, which is tactile so that you can identify where to place your mark. A member of staff at the polling station will read out the options for you, so that you know which candidate corresponds to each number. Then you can be left to cast your vote in private, fold the paper over and take it to the ballot box.

Until this chance conversation, I’d never thought about how unsighted people cast their vote on polling day. I know that on the list of polling stations, there’s something to say how accessible each venue is – for example, whether there is a ramp for wheelchair users – but I’ve never really thought about the ballot paper itself.

It strikes me that it’s quite easy for most of us to vote, and yet a lot of people don’t bother. At the same time, there are a lot of people who might find the process of voting more difficult, but who always make the effort to use their vote.

David also asked me when I thought there might be electronic voting used for the elections in Kirklees. He pointed out that this would create some new options for people with disabilities.

As I made the short walk home from the bus stop, I found myself thinking about how elections have evolved over the years. I wonder how the process might change in the future.

The collecting of the vote in Holmfirth Civic Hall

Community reporters at the postal vote openingMy first experience of being a reporter was at the Holmfirth Civic Hall. We entered the building through the reception lobby then signed in, we were taken into a large room by the receptionist. At first glance there were many tables with lots of dedicated workers opening piles of envelopes, taking out the voter information and placing them on to another pile by adding a rubber band to keep them in place. The piles would then be taken away by one of the electoral workers who would pass them over to another group of workers on computers; the information would be carefully checked on a computer data system.

We met with one of the electoral officers; she had been part of the team for five years. There are seven electoral services staff, responsible for the whole process, including processing all the new applications for postal votes, preparing the information for the voter packs, liaising with the printers, staffing all the polling stations and organising the count.

After the polls close on Thursday, ballot boxes are collected from 23 different wards across Kirklees and taken to two counting venues in Huddersfield and Dewsbury – it’s a huge operation.

For the opening of the postal votes, the electoral services team are also responsible for writing out to people to get them to come along to help, or “getting bums on seats”, and getting the event set up. The opening of the postal votes takes several days, with staff staying into the early hours of the morning on Friday to make sure that all the postal votes are verified in time to go through to be counted along with the votes from the polling stations.

It was a real eye-opener for us to see how much work goes on behind the scenes.

The electoral officer who talked to us on the morning said that their families are used to them not being around much during election week.

“We don’t have flowers thrown at us,” she said, “but we know that what we do is valued.”