With Namibians going to the polls next month to elect their regional council and local authority councillors, the visually impaired feel their democratic rights to vote are not being considered due to a lack of guiding materials.
They say the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) failed to consult them on measures put in place for them to go vote, despite the knowledge that they usually rely on helpers to ease their challenges during polling.
For years, the visually impaired have had to rely on polling staff to read out to them the list of candidates and their details. Alternatively, they have to rely on a trusted person to assist them in voting for their preferred candidate.
According to them, relying on helpers to vote is unjust and undemocratic because such helpers can take advantage and lure them into voting certain candidates.
Speaking to the chairperson of the Namibian Federation for the Visually Impaired, Moses Nghipandulwa yesterday blamed the ECN for having failed to consider challenges faced by the visually impaired, the deaf and others living with disabilities.
The federation has about 20 000 members countrywide.
Although, the use of electronic voting machines has been declared unconstitutional in Namibia, they say ECN did not consult them on whether there is a provision for braille ballot papers for the visually impaired.
“Our rights are not really being considered due to challenges we face during the voting process. We have never been consulted. Our ballot papers have to be put in format for visually impaired people to avoid influence and disturbance when voting. We don’t know how ECN is going to accommodate us,” Nghipandulwa reacted.
In response, chief electoral officer Theo Mujoro said to ensure secrecy of the vote for all voters, braille and tactile ballot covers will be produced, including sample ballot papers in braille.
He explained these ballot papers will be produced after the nomination process, scheduled to end 16 October 2020. “The nomination process is the determinant on how ballot papers will look like, based on which parties, candidates and associations will take part in elections, based on their nominations,” he said.
Another member, Mwangelwa Sinengela, bemoaned lack of training of polling officials by the ECN to effectively deal with the visually impaired people.
“Polling officials have no idea how to deal with the visually impaired. We need representation at the ECN. We have different means of accessing information. Some never studied braille. ECN can check on how other countries are doing it,” complained Mwaka Mutende-Mukweli.
They asked the ECN to incorporate the visually impaired into their system. ECN announced the voter education campaign for polling in terms of the 2020 regional council and local authority elections started yesterday.
“The campaign is geared at ensuring inclusivity and to raise awareness on the inclusion of special focus groups such as women, people with disabilities, the youth and marginalised communities – and that they are able to participate in elections without unfair barriers, which is a core component of delivering an inclusive election,” Mujoro stated.
The ECN, through its voter education programme, has a section on disability mainstreaming and the solitary purpose of that section is to ensure all persons with disabilities, including visually impaired voters, are given adequate information on electoral processes.
Mujoro noted voter education materials are produced in braille and audio – and that all television adverts include sign language interpretation, adding these materials include illustrations on how to correctly mark ballot papers.