People with special needs want and can work as polling officials
18 February 2016. I could serve as polling official only because of the facilities that exist in this particular electoral bureau premises. It is a community center for children and youth equipped with wheelchair access ramps and bathrooms for people with special needs. It is amazing that nobody realizes that we are just like any other people and we have same physiological and civic needs,” says Igor Mereacre, 46, male, in a wheelchair, President of Association Motivatie.
Igor Mereacre was member of a precinct electoral bureau (PEB) in most recent parliamentary elections in November 2014 and in 2015 local elections.
A lever to make the authorities to choose accessible polling stations
- On 21 April 2015 CEC adopted the “Declaration on accessibility of the electoral process for persons with disabilities”.
- As a result of this Declaration, 20 wheelchair access ramps have been installed in polling stations with the support of UNDP in order to ensure respect of the rights of people with special needs.
- In 2014 parliamentary elections, for the first time in Moldova’s history, special sleeves (envelopes) for ballots papers were used by voters with visual impairments.
- Sign language translation of the CEC meetings was provided during the last electoral campaigns.
The new Regulation on accessibility of people with disabilities to the electoral processes which provides the need to engage these people as polling officials and describes responsibilities of local public authorities, electoral candidates and civil society, was adopted by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) in January 2016. The CEC Regulation was developed with the support of the project "Improving the Quality of Moldovan Democracy through Parliamentary and Electoral Support" implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
According to Victor Koroli, Executive Director of Infonet Alliance, this document sets the rules of inclusion and approaches trenchantly the issue of access of people with special needs to polling stations.
“There would be no need for this document if the law was respected in this country. UN conventions have been ratified, national legislation has been passed and norms of accessibility adopted. However, this document is very important for us because it empowers the CEC with additional leverages to make the local authorities provide premises for polling stations adapted for people with special needs”, Victor Koroli noted.
”The most important is that all relevant norms and legal requirements were compiled in one document, thus making the work of authorities easier. Now they – the authorities – will have tools to evaluate the premises that host polling stations. I hope that with the adoption of this document models of accessibility will be provided and law will start being enforced,” Igor Mereacre says.
Same people with special needs resigned themselves with exclusion
Mr. Mereacre states that he was the sole voter with special needs in the polling station where he worked in the last two elections. Even though the premises was friendly, only aged people with walking difficulties and families with small children benefited from the wheelchair access ramps: “It seems that people with special needs resigned themselves with exclusion from political life. Many can’t even go out due to the lack of access ramps in their apartment buildings, or don’t have the money to travel to polling stations”.
Igor Mereacre says that not even the mobile ballot box was solicited. “You know how our society is. People lock themselves in their homes, watch TV and don’t care that with initiatives and by voting they can make the change in the country. Why do you think people with special needs are any different? We are part of this society, we are just like everyone else. Of course there are issues which cannot be ignored, however we must demand our rights to be respected”.
Special ballots for voters with visual impairments
Huge progress was made in the last few years due to cooperation between the CEC, civil society and "Improving the Quality of Moldovan Democracy through Parliamentary and Electoral Support" project implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and financed by the Governments of Sweden and Norway. As a result of this cooperation, for the first time in Moldova’s history the elections were much more inclusive due to the special sleeves (envelopes) in Braille for the ballots papers that were distributed to all polling stations and used by voters with visual impairments.
The (in) accessibility map?
Of course the ramps are the most expensive and painful problem. Accessibility map developed by Motivatie activists displays a sad picture. Out of 265 polling stations inspected so far, only 41 are adequately equipped and allow access for all visitors.
With the support of UNDP twenty wheelchair access ramps were built before most recent elections to facilitate access to polling stations. Among the instruments that will be further promoted by the Program together with the civil society are amendments to Electoral Code to allow people with mental disabilities exercise their right to vote.
Once the new CEC Regulation was adopted, the number of green spots on the accessibility map might go up significantly, because the local authorities will be obliged to take into account accessibility for people with special needs criteria when designating premises for polling stations. Last, but not least, this Regulation will aim at engaging people with special needs as polling officials. This will be an enormous step towards respecting human rights and promoting inclusive, genuinely general, elections in the country.
* 21 April 2015 – Declaration on accessibility of the electoral process for persons with disabilities. This document had only a recommendatory character and was adopted specifically for the general local elections in 2015.
** 26 January 2016 – Regulation on accessibility of the electoral process for persons with disabilities. This document comprises detailed responsibilities of the CEC, local public authorities, electoral candidates, civil society and mass-media in order to ensure the accessibility of persons with disabilities not only to vote and to be voted, but being part of the process as electoral officials. The Regulation complement the previous Declaration.