Wheelchair voter couldn’t vote

A woman who uses a wheelchair was furious she could not cast her vote at last week’s local election after a ramp fitted for her convenience actually blocked the door of the polling station.

Ellen Cummings told The Galloway Gazette she felt she been disenfranchised last Thursday when going to vote at Whauphill Village Hall as she couldn’t get to the ballot box.

The ramp was positioned so that only one door into the hall could be opened. But the width of the wheelchair meant Mrs Cummings needed both doors to be open. The ramp was also screwed down making it impossible to lower so that the second door could open. She was offered alternatives but refused these and returned home.

Mrs Cummings, who lives at Malzie Smithy, said: “I arrived at around 4.30pm to find one door open but I needed the double door open to get in. They then offered to take my voting paper in for me but I refused.

“They they were going to bring the ballot box out to me, or get me in round the back but that’s not right. I should be able to vote just like anyone else. It’s my human right to go in and vote inside the polling station like any other person.

“Later they came to my house and told me it was fixed and I could go back and vote but I wasn’t going to use up valuable petrol going back again.

“I couldn’t vote and I am furious!”

Mrs Cummings said this was the third time she had gone to vote at Whauphill Hall to cast her vote. The first time she got in through the back door as her husband negotiated the step with her wheelchair. The second time a portable ramp was put at the front door for her.

The Returning Officer for Dumfries and Galloway, Alex Haswell said: “I have already written to the voter concerned expressing my regret that, as the result of a short term problem with the disabled access to Whauphill Hall she was unable to enter the Polling Station at the time she arrived.

“Election staff are totally committed to ensuring that all electors vote by the method of their choice and receive training on all aspects of equality and diversity.

“When staff at the Polling Station became aware of the difficulties with the access to Whauphill Hall they offered the voter appropriate alternatives to cast their vote without the need to enter the Hall but maintaining the secrecy of the ballot.

“The access was repaired within 90 minutes of the defect being discovered and a member of my staff contacted the voter to offer them the opportunity of returning to cast their vote. This was followed by a visit to the voter’s home to offer other alternatives. These offers were declined. In preparation all Polling Places and arrangements were checked before the election to ensure that they met the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Legislation.”

Newly elected Mid Galloway Councillor Graham Nicol witnesses what happened at Whauphill. He said: “The returning officer offered Mrs Cummings every opportunity to vote.”