Voting Rights of Persons with Disability should be guaranteed

Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party considers that the General Elections Act does not consider persons with disability as persons but as votes. This was stated by Dr. Claire Azzopardi Lane, AD Spokesperson for Disability Issues and Sport.

Under the current modus operandi, stated Azzopardi Lane, persons with disability are required to have the voting room closed while 3 to 6 Assistant Electoral Commissioners (AECs) aid the voting process. This process is experienced during general elections, European Parliament elections, local council elections and national referendums. Persons with disability have rightly claimed that it is obviously a very awkward feeling to have to close the voting premises off, and leave a queue of people waiting outside. Furthermore 3 to 6 persons who represent the Electoral Commission will get to know who you are voting for, as the voter is required to speak out his choice in order for his vote to be significant.

Carmel Cacopardo, Deputy Chairperson and AD Spokesperson on Sustainable Development and Home Affairs, considers that there should be a national discussion as to whether and under what conditions a voter would be entitled to be assisted during voting by a “trusted person” selected by him/herself. Such a procedure would obviously not be limited in applicability to persons with disability but also to other categories, including persons who cannot read or write.

People with disability have insisted that choosing to have a single trusted person of their choice would make the voting process more private and appropriate. They claimed that if such a trusted person (of their choice) was entrusted with their bank details then s/he could also be entrusted with assisting them when voting. Obviously to avoiding abuse, measures would need to be put in place so as to safeguard the interest of persons with disability who require such support.

Dr. Azzopardi Lane added that AD insists on the right of people with disability to have access to the voting system by introducing accessible  nformation and communication technology – available on the market and now part of everyday life – for people with physical disability. A strong investment should be made in order to address the requirements of persons who cannot use conventional means of voting and require alternative means using computer adapted technology.

When referring to the rights of persons with intellectual disability, AD considers that the current system requires an overhaul. To date persons with intellectual disability are part of the electoral register and have a right to vote unless a judicial protest is presented, generally by the Parliamentary Political Parties (PN and PL). When this is the case the person with intellectual disability is subjected to assessment by the medical board made up of political appointees in terms of Article 14 of the General Elections Act. The role of the medical board is then to discern whether the intellectual capacity of the person involved is of the required level for the person to vote.

AD does not support current system where the voting rights of people with intellectual disability become a subject matter for political parties. AD considers that the political parties should have no role in selecting the medical panel. This role should be exercised by National Commission for Persons with Disability (NCPD). Through the meetings AD representatives have had with representatives of the Electoral Commission the general idea still seems to be that people with intellectual disability are not fit to vote. AD considers that persons with intellectual disability can be educated about their civic responsibilities and given the opportunity to vote if they are able to make an informed choice.

AD supports the use of the Braille system for voters who are blind during voting, where the ballot paper is printed in Braille form. The braille system in Malta already exists but it seems very few blind people use it. More awareness and information is disseminated to voters who are visually impaired in order to ensure that this group of voters is aware of this possibility and confident in the use of these adapted means.

Dr Azzopardi Lane concluded by stating that whilst considerable amounts of public money are spent to accommodate the needs of those
voters who need to travel from abroad to vote,what’s necessary to meet the needs of persons with disability such that they be able to vote
independently has not yet been considered.