Dáil Éireann - Volume 571 - 30 September, 2003

Written Answers. - Polling Stations.

  1282. Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the problems facing members of the disabled community, especially those using wheelchairs, in making use of the new electronic voting system. [20334/03]

  1283. Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether all schools and other buildings used as polling stations during local, general and European elections are completely accessible for disabled persons. [20335/03]

  Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1282 and 1283 together.

  I am satisfied that wheelchair users can use the electronic voting machines. Nonetheless, I am aware of the importance of accessibility issues and a number of improvements have been made to the voting machine to improve its user friendliness since its first use in 2002. The new features include an increase in the size and legibility of candidate's details; the use of larger preference numbers and brighter displays for better visibility and the use of a redesigned “Cast Vote” vote button, following consultations with the National Disability Authority, NDA, and National Council for the Blind in Ireland. The possibility of developing a facility to allow visually impaired persons use the voting machine independently is also being examined. Finally, my Department is procuring customised tables for the voting machines with a tilt facility for easier access for people with a physical disability and, in particular, for persons using wheelchairs.

  Electoral law provides for a number of measures in relation to accessibility to polling [772] buildings. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 1996 provides that local authorities, in making polling schemes, shall endeavour to appoint polling places where at least one polling station is accessible to wheelchair users. The Act also requires that the returning officer shall, where practicable, provide polling stations which are accessible to wheelchair users. The returning officer must, in addition, where practicable, give public notice of all polling stations which are inaccessible to wheelchair users not later than eight days before polling day. If an elector has difficulty gaining access to their polling station, the person may apply in writing for authorisation to vote at another polling station in the same constituency.

  Once in the polling station, persons with a physical disability or with a literacy difficulty may avail of companion voting or may seek the assistance of the presiding officer. Alternatively, if a person has a physical disability or illness which prevents them from going to the polling station, they can vote by post if they apply to be included in the postal voters' list which is drawn up each year as part of the register of electors.