I live in Uruguay, where municipal governors will be elected in May, because I am blind, I will not be able to vote for myself. This means that I will have to enter the voting room with an outside person to help me cast my vote. I do not believe this is fair.
One of the main foundations of democratic systems is the secret, independent ballot. The secret ballot allows all people to vote autonomously, without being stigmatized by our choices, thus respecting our privacy and integrity in every way. But this right is denied to visually impaired people in many countries, despite the existence of systems that could change this situation.
In May, I will go into the voting room with a trusted person who I hope will cast the vote that I indicate. However, what about those people with disabilities who don’t have access to someone to assist them? Should they place their vote, and therefore their opportunity to influence things that matter to them, in the hands of someone they don’t know?
By having to go in to vote with the help of an outside person, our countries are infringing not only the right to be able to cast a vote by secret ballot, like the rest of our fellow citizens, but also the possibility of being able to exercise our political rights independently of outside interference. When we are forced to vote through another person, our vote is no longer only ours, but becomes dependent on a lot of factors that we can’t control—among them, the ethical values of the person who assists us.
A 2019 Report by the European Blind Union showed, among other things, that in more than half of European countries people with visual impairments can only vote with the help of an assistant, and that a large number of the systems intended to make voting more accessible were not working properly.
In Cyprus, for example, visually impaired people can only vote with the help of election officials, and in Ireland, a visually impaired person can be denied the vote if there is not enough time to check that the assistant chosen by the person is suitable for the task.
In African countries, while most have legislation that should ensure accessible and independent voter participation, laws are not enforced and the few projects that are undertaken to achieve this lack real impact. Similar issues exist around the world.
Unfortunately, little media attention is given to the violation of rights around there world, and there’s not much sense of urgency that exists to solve it.
It may seem that there are no solutions or that they are difficult to implement, but the truth is that these exist: In Spain, for example, accessible and secret voting for all is implemented through Braille ballots, which allows voters to select their candidates themselves. In Estonia, another pioneer in the implementation of accessibility solutions, e-voting is the most widely used, and the same is true for countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Not all systems in these countries are perfect, but they work as a basis for similar systems to be adopted elsewhere.
If we want our democratic systems to defend the rights of all equally, it is time to start fighting for accessible and secret voting to be guaranteed for all. The impossibility of exercising our political rights in an accessible manner and on an equal footing with our fellow citizens only increases the gap that exists in terms of the political participation of people with disabilities, and makes it more difficult for us to participate in issues that affect us directly. It is time to demonstrate that our rights, like those of the rest of society, must also be respected and fulfilled, no matter where we are in the world. Today, more than ever, we must raise our voices to point out these injustices, so that voting accessibility around the globe ceases to be a mere concept and becomes a reality.
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