England

Anonymous voting made 'more accessible' for domestic abuse

Mehala Osborne
Image caption Mehala Osborne's launched the campaign to have the law changed when she lived in a Bristol refuge

Domestic violence survivors will soon find it easier to cast anonymous ballots in elections, the government has said.

A petition launched last year said the voter registration system made it "impossible" for those wishing to keep their details off the electoral roll.

It said women were prevented from voting through fear of revealing their location to an abusive ex-partner.

Proposals to overhaul the system have now been unveiled.

Anonymous registration is available to people whose safety would be at risk if their name or address appeared on the electoral register, but it currently requires court documents signed by an attestor.

This must be a "qualifying officer" such as a high-ranking police officer or the head of the security service.

'Hunt me down'

Among the new measures announced are plans to lower the seniority required for an attestor from the police or social services.

Mehala Osborne, who launched the petition to change the law while living in a Bristol safe house, said the changes would ensure "survivors in the future will not be denied their voice".

Chris Skidmore, minister for the constitution, said it is clear that "the existing system has often let down those affected by domestic abuse".

Another domestic abuse survivor, Dawn Morville, said: "When I was living in a refuge, I could never register to vote as I was worried my ex would be able to hunt me down - and if he had been able to find my address, there is no doubt he would have come after me.

"For years after I left the refuge, I could still not vote, because I knew that he would find me if he could, and seriously harm me and my children."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said: "Domestic abuse must not deny women their right to take part in democracy.

"The proposed new measures send out a clear message to all survivors of domestic abuse: that their voices matter, and their participation in politics matters."

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