Voting right denied, says visually impaired man

A severely visually impaired man has claimed his right to vote in secret has been breached by the State’s alleged failure to provide an appropriate mechanism allowing him do so.

Robert Sinnott was born with several visual impairment, is totally blind in his left eye and expects to be unable to see at all within four years, the High Court heard.

Despite his disability, Mr Sinnott, with assistance of an educational support worker, a specially developed computer software package and strong visual magnifier, is pursuing a PhD in Irish at Trinity College having previously obtained an Honours Arts degree from UCD and a Higher Diploma in Folklore.

In proceedings before Mr Justice Tony O’Connor, Mr Sinnott aged 45, a father of two, James Street, Dublin, and member of the Blind Legal Alliance campaign group, claims the state has breached his rights under the Constitution, European Convention on Human Rights and UN Charter for People with Disabilities in not having a mechanism allowing the visually impaired cast their votes in secret.

He claims he must ask the polling station presiding officer to complete his ballot paper which effectively means he is being deprived of his right to a secret ballot. He also contends there is a relatively simple solution available involving a braille sleeve being placed over the ordinary ballot paper.

His case is against the Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government and the State which deny his claims, including that he has been deprived of a secret ballot.

They plead practical problems and legal issues have been identified in the use of tactile templates.

Opening his case this week, Michael McDowell SC, with Michael Lynn SC, said the State has been aware since at least 2011 there are mechanisms that could be readily adapted for introduction and maintenance of secure secret voting for visually impaired persons in elections here.

His side disputed the State’s claims that this action was effectively a collateral attack on the electoral laws.

The case resumes on Tuesday.


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