Photo credit: Joseph Alford

Dolly Sen’s ‘The World’s Biggest Tiny Placard Protest’* 

On Monday 20th May, artist Dolly Sen ran an event at Bethlem Royal Hospital that toured different sites around the hospital, speaking to patients and staff about their right to vote and the support people need to exercise that right. 

We want to keep sharing knowledge and resources so that more people in our community register to vote. Please have a look at the resources below and keep an eye out for more ways to collectively make our tiny voices big. Bethlem Gallery will be announcing more ways to add to Dolly Sen’s ‘The World’s Biggest Tiny Placard Protest’*. 

*Not officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records (yet!). 

I want to register to vote/I want to support someone to register to vote. Where are the resources I need? 

The General Election has been called for 4 July 2024. Register to vote by 11:59pm on 18 June 2024. This is the first UK General Election where you will have to show photo ID when you cast your vote. 

Click here for general information on who can vote and how to register.

Voting if you are a patient in hospital: 

If you are a patient at a psychiatric hospital then you can vote by using the hospital as your address. You have a right to vote even if you have been detained under s35, s36 or s48. 

The form to register to vote, and all the information on what you need to do, can be found here: 

If you are in hospital for a short time then you can register to vote using the address you had before you went to hospital. 

Voter ID 

All voters must take photographic ID when they cast their vote. 

What if you don’t have any photo ID? You can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate here: 

Dolly Sen’s ‘The World’s Biggest Tiny Placard Protest’*. See the placards made so far… Photo credit: Joseph Alford
Photo credit: Joseph Alford

Here’s some of what South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Patients and Staff had to say on the day… 

I didn’t even think you could vote if you were sectioned 

You should make it easier to vote not more difficult 

I burned my ID 

In three years working here I’ve never heard anything about registering to vote and how to support people. 

There’s a real willingness from staff to help but we don’t have access to information and resources to take people off site to vote. Make it on site. 

The most marginalised people aren’t voting 

We’ve already got a NI number. Why do we need photo ID? 

I don’t feel the votes make a difference 

I can 100% say that they don’t know that they can vote. 

It’s difficult enough when people have lost passports, everything. 

If I was at my mum’s at the time then I would vote because that’s where I’m registered but it’s really about convenience 

Often people feel like second class citizens. It’s good to remind them they can vote 

Do you know of any way that you can show your lack of faith in the political system that isn’t just spoiling your vote? 

Dolly Sen’s Reflections on her ‘The World’s Biggest Tiny Placard Protest 

I went into the voting rights event with some trepidation, worried no one would engage or people would react negatively to it.I looked upon it as an experiment. I needn’t have worried. Making it informal and offering biscuits and a listening ear opened conversations easily. I found people were interested in issues and wanting to change things, but either had little trust in the political machine, or didn’t know how to register to vote. We offered advice on registration to patients, staff and visitors. We also asked people to write on small placards messages to politicians. People have hope. People want community. People want change, but they don’t believe the current political system can do it and that it needs to change. Somebody wondered if 90% of ballot papers were spoiled, if politicians would get the message or be too ashamed to take power. Someone else said, ‘People aren’t disengaged with politics, politics is disengaged with them.’ That was the day’s lightbulb moment.  

I have to agree with them, I have little hope in the political machine that is part of the web that houses the IMF, World Bank, and other pillars of capitalism. But after the day was over, my hopelessness did recede. I have hope in people. I have hope in irritating authorities into making changes, like making registration easier, and putting polling stations in hospital or on wheels.   

Dolly Sen with the placards. Photo credit: Joseph Alford
Photo credit: Joseph Alford

More information from South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust on the Voting Rights of Inpatients 

Who is entitled to vote? 

Voluntary patients on medical wards are not subject to any restrictions on their voting rights. Being a psychiatric in-patient does not inherently change an individual’s right to vote. Moreover, patients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, including those on community treatment orders, have the same right to vote as anyone else. 

Patients who are entitled to vote:all patients on civil sections (part 2) of the MHA and prisoners remanded to hospital under the MHA on Sections 35, 36 or 48. 

Patients with a condition that may impair their capacity to vote:These individuals should be asked if they want to register to vote/want to vote and additional support offered to support them doing so. If they require assistance, they must be allowed to express their own intention of how they cast their vote. It is important that a staff member, advocate, relative or career does not influence their voting choice. A lack of mental capacity is not a legal incapacity to vote. 

Patients who are not entitled to vote:patients detained after having been convicted of committing a criminal offence and been ordered to hospital by the courts, and are subject to: 

  • a hospital order under Sections 37, 38, 44 or 51(5) or a hospital direction under Section 45A, 46, 47 of the MHA 
  • an order under Section 5(2)(a) of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964 
  • an order under Section 6(2) (a) or Section 14 (2) (a) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968. 

Voting in person - At a polling station between 7.00 a.m. and 10.00 p.m. on Thursday 4 July 2024 

Voting by post - A postal vote application form needs to be completed and sent back to the local electoral registration office. Postal vote packs are usually sent out about a week before election day. Votes need to be posted back to arrive by 10pm on the day of the election; otherwise, it can be handed to the local electoral registration office or local polling station by 10.00 p.m. on election day. 

Voting by proxy - Nominating someone to vote for you on the day of the election or by post. An individual must have capacity to decide who to choose to be their proxy. 

The last day to apply to vote by post and for postal proxy applications is 

5.00 p.m. on Wednesday 26th June 2024 for proxy vote 

5.00 p.m. on Wednesday 19th June 2024 for postal vote 

More information 

This pilot project was commissioned by Bethlem Gallery and funded by Maudsley Charity.

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