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Voting Procedures in the E.U. - Accessibility

Access to voting procedures for the blind and partially sighted in EU Member States

 

 

Austria

 

Blind and partially sighted voters are permitted to take an accompanying person, a person of their choice, into the polling booth, if they wish to do so.  They may, if they wish to, also ask an election official to assist them.

 

In addition, casting one's ballot by means of a postal vote is also permitted, in which case the blind or partially sighted person can easily ask for assistance.

 

All polling areas in which blind or partially sighted persons are registered equip their polling stations with special stencils so that blind and partially sighted voters can vote independently, should they wish to do so.

 

Blind and partially sighted persons are also allowed to use templates – a similar system to that in Germany.

 

Belgium

 

There are no ballots in braille or large print. Every person who is not able to participate at the elections can delegate their vote, based on a medical certificate, to someone else of his/her choice.

 

A person who is not able to fill in the ballot paper can choose someone to assist him/her. The chairman of the polling station where the voter concerned has to present him/herself (voting is mandatory in Belgium) is not allowed to reject the chosen assistant.

 

In many parts of Belgium electronic voting is possible, which means that blind and partially sighted people need help, just like the elderly.

In the future Belgium wants to extend the use of electronic voting machines to more polling stations.

 

The government gave order to companies which want to supply electronic voting machines to make them accessible for all, and the Belgian Confederation of the Blind and Partially Sighted is involved in the examination of the prototypes of this voting machines.

 

Cyprus

 

In Cyprus a blind person can vote by him or herself, or with the help of any persons of his or her choice, in any type of election (presidential, parliamentary or referendum).

 

The provisions of the relevant law include the following: "A blind person can vote by himself, if he wishes to do so, stating that he is in a position to perform the task. The voter who, because of his blindness or other disability, cannot vote by himself, can ask the person holding the presidency of the voting post, in the presence of one of his assistants, or ask any other person of his absolute trust, to help him to exercise his right to vote, according to his wish."

 

The Pancyprian Organization of the Blind prepares a template to mark the ballot paper for each election, especially at elections with only few candidates or choices; this is for use by blind voters who don't want to avail of assistance from any sighted person.

 

Denmark

 

The main system for voting and assistance for persons with a visual impairment is that they are allowed to bring a trusted sighted person of their own choice with them to the voting booth to assist in putting the cross or mark the right place. This is a simple system that does not involve any official, but for those who do not have a selected trusted person, a voting official may assist them in the voting booth instead.

 

There is a change in the Danish legislation inspired by the system in other Nordic countries which does not satisfy the Danish Association of the Blind.  It seems that in the future, unless we manage to turn things around, apart from the trusted person of your own choice, it will become mandatory to have an official in the booth to make sure that the accompanying person really checks the right box according to the wish of the visually impaired person - more complicated and less confidential.

 

Estonia

 

According to the law, people with physical or sensory impairment are allowed to use a trusted person of his/her choice, except someone who is on a list of candidates for the elections. This person can help the person with impairment to fill in the ballot paper. No ballot papers are available in braille or large print.

 

Blind and low vision persons can also use an e-voting system which was introduced in Estonia some years ago. In this case they need computers with screen-reading software and a special device for identifying their personal identity card (sighted people need that one as well), and of course the knowledge how to use it. We already have some blind people who are very good at computers and are able to participate in e-voting being totally independent in the process, but the number of them is quite small.

 

Finland

 

Finland has no mechanism for voting in braille or using large print ballot papers. For a person with visual disability it is possible to have a trusted friend with him or her to help cast their vote. There is also an official assistant available at every polling station, if needed. It is also possible to cast your vote in advance at home. In that case you have to prove your inability to visit your home polling station.

 

France

 

The only measure is that at times there are indications in braille on the tables in the polling station to show where the ballot papers or party lists are located.

 

If electronic voting is in place, the voting machines must be adapted to take into account all types of disability, and they must be clearly usable by blind and partially sighted voters. No other measures are in place.

 

Germany

 

Voting procedures have been accessible for blind and partially sighted people since the year 2003 following lobby work by DBSV. Blind people use a special template which is labelled in braille, thus enabling them to vote independently at elections. Large print on the template ensures that the needs of partially sighted people are also taken on board. Through extensive information provided in all accessible formats voters with visual impairment know how to use the template. However, those who prefer to vote with a trusted friend may do so.

DBSV advised the Government as regards the design of the template. Before each election the templates are distributed through the DBSV regional organisations. After the European elections in 2004 a survey was conducted in
Germany to evaluate the use of the template which delivered positive results. Besides the European elections, we have General elections and regional elections in some Lander and local communities this year, so DBSV is very busy currently in ensuring that blind voters can make use of their right to vote independently.

 

The templates and information packs are produced by various braille printing houses, and costs are borne by the government.

 

Ireland

 

Large print or braille ballot papers are currently not available. There are a number of facilities in place to assist people with a physical illness or disability, a vision impairment or a reading or writing disability in Ireland to exercise their voting rights.

Electors can:

 

• Vote at an alternative polling station if the local station is inaccessible;
• Be assisted to vote at the polling station by a companion or the presiding officer;
• Vote by post;
• Vote at a hospital, nursing home or similar institution if they live there.
 

If a voter has difficulty gaining access to his/her local polling station, he or she can apply in writing to the returning officer - at least a week before polling day - for permission to vote at another polling station in the same constituency.

 

If a voter applies to be authorised to vote at another polling station, he or she should explain why they cannot gain access to their local station. This will help the returning officer select a suitable alternative polling station. If possible, the voter should suggest a polling station that is both accessible and convenient.

 

Access within polling stations

 

Voting compartments may not be suitable for older people and people with disabilities. Returning officers must make available a table and chair at which electors can vote if they find that more convenient.

 

Assistance with voting

 

The presiding officer will ask for the voter’s name and address and will look at the polling information card when they arrive at the station.

 

The law is specific about the types of electors who can be assisted to vote and how and by whom they may be assisted. The presiding officer is obliged to apply the law, which is intended to ensure that electors can vote and that the vote is kept secret.

 

Companion voting

 

Voters with a visual impairment or physical disability that prevents them from voting without assistance can have the ballot paper marked for them by a companion. To act as a companion, a person must be at least 16-years-old, must be neither a candidate nor an agent of a candidate and may not assist more than two electors at an election.

 

Voters may also ask for assistance from the presiding officer. In this case, the presiding officer will be accompanied by a person called a personation agent, who will ensure that the presiding officer complies with the voter’s wishes. If necessary, the presiding officer will suspend entry to the polling station and have the station cleared to ensure that no other person can overhear how the elector votes.

 

Italy

 

There is a trusted friend system. Persons with disabilities which make it impossible for them to vote by themselves (e.g. blind persons or persons with severe dexterity impairments) are entitled to vote with the support of a personal assistant of their choice who is registered in the list of voters of any Italian municipality.

 

The fact that they are not able to vote by themselves has to be proved by an official medical certificate. In order to avoid going through this procedure every election the right to be accompanied by a personal assistant can be made permanent by making a specific note in the voter's certificate.

 

Lithuania

 

Generally speaking, voting procedures are not accessible for blind and low vision people in Lithuania. There are no braille or large print ballots in our country. However, the election office provides info and allocates some funding to produce materials in alternative formats for the visually impaired. The work is usually done by our organization.

 

The usual practice for a person with visual disability during the voting process is to have an entrusted person of his/her choice to help casting the vote.

 

Malta

 

The system used in European elections is the same as that for the general election. Starting from the last election, in addition to the assistance given by the electoral commissioner at each polling station, the law was changed and the use of a template was permitted for the first time.

The template had the candidates' names and political parties information in braille by means of strips glued to the template in correspondence to the windows.


Each candidate has 2 windows next to each other since we have a
preferential system not just a cross. For non-braille users, the
booth also has audio description.

The Malta Society of the Blind is not satisfied with the system since it caters for a small minority of blind voters. They pushed for (and are still pushing for) the trusted friend system, but this was opposed by both political parties so the organisation settled for the first change in the law.

 

Netherlands

 

During the European Parliament Elections there will be a pilot scheme in the Netherlands to make elections more accessible.

A few years ago voting was done in almost all situations electronically with voting machines. One of the two producers of these machines in the
Netherlands made one accessible for blind people with braille and speech.

 
Then there were a lot of problems with all voting machines concerning safety and secrecy. A special commission operating on behalf of the government issued a recommendation to abolish this technology for the moment, until better and safer technology is available.

 

That means that we have gone back to voting with pencil and paper. This was a drawback for the visually impaired people in the Netherlands. The government has asked Viziris and the Dutch Disability council for advice on this issue. This will be an ongoing process for the coming years. This year there will be a pilot project with a telephone line where voters can listen to the following information:


- which parties are taking part in this election;
- which candidates are standing for each of the parties.

This information is identical to the ballot paper one gets when voting.
By listening to the information about the parties and candidates one can make a choice beforehand. In the upcoming elections the actual voting itself is not yet accessible. After listening to the information one can also order the information in braille and large print. This pilot will be evaluated in July by Viziris and the government, and the cost of the scheme is covered by the government.

A lot of the participating parties do, on request, deliver their election manifesto in other reading formats free of charge. There will also be a website about the elections for the European Parliament with Read Speaker on it.

This is the situation in the
Netherlands for these elections. It is not
yet ideal in the sense that people with a visual impairment can not cast their vote independently, but there is an awareness and willingness of the government to look into this for the coming elections. In 2011 there will be local elections and we hope to get some further steps then.

 

Poland

 

At the beginning of February 2009 the Polish Parliament finished work on the European Parliament electoral law amendments (basic modifications: two-day elections, the possibility for the elderly and people with disabilities to appoint another person as his/her attorney to attend and vote in their place). The Polish Coalition of Disability NGOs (the Polish Association of the Blind is one of its members) addressed the appeal to the Polish President asking him, on behalf of people with disabilities in Poland, to sign this modification. This appeal was also published by “Gazeta Wyborcza” – the second largest daily newspaper and one of the most influential and opinion-making Polish newspapers.

 

The Polish President, however, did not sign it. Instead he referred the proposed electoral law to the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland, which supervises the compliance of statutory laws within the Constitution. According to the President’s opinion the alteration breaches the constitutional directness and secrecy rules. We are currently waiting for the verdict.

 

So far we do not have any measures for voting in braille or large print ballot papers. Of course blind or partially sighted persons can be accompanied by a trusted friend to assist them during the voting process. The Polish Association of the Blind hopes to change this situation and is keenly engaged in this process.

 

It should be added that the Polish Ombudsman intends to improve the situation of voters with disabilities. On April 8th the President of the Polish Association of the Blind participated in a meeting organized in his office where, jointly with representatives from other disabled people’s organizations, they discussed possible future measures that could ensure greater accessibility in voting for blind and partially sighted people (as well as for others with disabilities in our country).

 

We are lobbying for:

 

A so-called “travelling ballot box”;

E-voting;

Postal voting;

Proxy voting.

 

We are considering the possibility of:

 

Preparing large print ballot papers

Preparing braille ballot papers 

 

In addition, the State Electoral Commission has noted the need to introduce measures for blind people and recognizes them as essential to change the electoral law in order to improve the voting process for this group.

 

Slovakia

 

If a voter is unable to mark the ballot due to health, disability or due to the fact that they are not able to read or write, they have the right to take another voter with them to the place assigned for marking ballots. Such a person may not be a member of the polling electoral committee.

 

If, due to health or disability, someone is unable to place the envelope into the ballot box, it can be done, upon the request of the voter and in his/her presence, by another voter who is not a member of the polling district committee.

 

If, due to health or disability, a voter is unable to go to the polling station, he or she may request the polling district committee to cast their vote in a transferable ballot box. There are no braille or large print ballot papers.

 

Spain

 

The Spanish Organic Law on General Voting Procedures was amended on June 28th 2007 - thanks to ONCE lobbying - to enable all blind people to vote in secret at general elections last year.

Both ONCE and CERMI (the Spanish national disability council) had been pressing for 'greater accessibility' for persons with disabilities in elections since 2002. Accordingly, a mixed 'working party' was set up in 2004 (including representatives from civil society and concerned public authorities) to move this issue forward together. The group studied accessible voting systems used all around the world.

The general elections involved elections to the two chambers that make up the Spanish parliament, that is to say the Congress of Deputies (the lower house) and the Senate (upper house). In addition, there were other elections being held on the same day (regional and local council elections). There was not enough time - and insufficient resources - to implement an accessible electronic voting system for these elections, so the traditional paper ballot method remained in place.

Since there were different procedures in place for different elections (some used a closed list system while others were open list), the working group reached the following conclusions:

1 Elections to the Congress of Deputies (lower house) and regional parliaments: it was decided to use the Swedish braille voting system, whereby voters are given large envelopes with the name of the party in braille, and inside there is a smaller standard envelope (as used by all voters) containing a standard ballot paper. This procedure worked well and is of course preferable to the system where the ballot papers themselves are produced in braille, thus differentiating the blind voter's ballot from other voters' and making it possible to identify his or her vote at the count.

2 Senate: we followed the German model. Blind and partially sighted voters use a braille template made available to them at the polling station. The template bears the names of the candidates to the upper house, and it is placed on top of the standard ballot paper to enable the person to cast his or her vote for the candidates they want.

Voters who wished to avail of this system were obliged to inform the Ministry of the Interior in advance. Applications could be made between two months prior to the elections and up to one month before polling day. The Ministry set up a freephone number for anyone who wished to apply and, following the publication of candidates' names, information on candidates was also available via the freephone service until the day of the elections. This information was also made available in accessible format on the Ministry web site.

The Ministry forwarded information on all voters who had applied to use the new method to his or her polling station. The voter simply had to show his or her identity card to the person in charge of the corresponding ballot box at the polling station and he or she was given an "accessible voting kit" to exercise their vote in braille. A larger space or room was set aside in each polling station to enable blind or partially sighted persons to vote smoothly and comfortably.

This was the only workable method because the electoral system for the Senate involved voting directly for a set number of candidates from any of the many long lists put forward by the parties. There were some minor problems when voting that need to be worked on, for example if the template is moved the voter may cast the ballot for someone he or she does not really want to vote for.

Due to the limited time available to roll out the system, it was not used for postal votes at the general election. It was of course optional, and anyone who wished to exercise their right to vote with the aid of a 'trusted person' could do so. To take advantage of the new system, voters had to be ONCE members or be legally registered as blind.

For this year's elections to the European Parliament the system used for the lower house last year will be used. The elections will be held on Sunday June 7th, and voters have until May 11th to submit a request to vote in braille.

 

Sweden

 

Ballot papers are supplied in an envelope marked with braille and large print, one for each party and election. The problem is if you want to vote for a particular candidate on the list. This is not possible without help from a sighted person. If you don’t know the way to the polling station, you can be driven there by any of the political parties.

 

United Kingdom

 

People who are blind or have a physical disability that means they cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person at a polling station are eligible to apply for a proxy vote. Alternatively, blind people may take a companion into the polling booth to help them.

The Representation of the People Act 2000 amended rules. In particular, the Representation of the People Regulations 2001 specified a tactile device to be available to help blind and partially sighted voters. Government guidance also set the smallest print on the large size ballot paper to be 16 point or above. Acting returning officers reported little use of the blind voters' device at the parliamentary elections in June 2001. However, there were reports that some electors who did use it were delighted at being able to vote unassisted for the first time.