Specialists of the “Office for the rights of persons with disabilities” welcome first steps in development of accessibility of election process in Belarus which have been made by the state, but it is not enough – obligatory standards should be worked out.
Citizens with disabilities all the time face different barriers which prevent them from participating in electoral process. There are some positive moments that should be mentioned – CEC of the Republic of Belarus for the second elections in a row makes a step towards citizens with disabilities. In 2015 during Presidential Elections CEC adopted a resolution from July 1, 2015 № 26 “On creation of additional conditions for voters with vision impairments during Presidential Elections in 2015”, which provides additional conditions for voters with visual impairments. People with visual impairments were given magnifying glasses for getting acquainted with informational materials about candidates to the President of the Republic of Belarus and for filling in ballots; special stencils were given to blind people who didn’t want to use assistance of other people to vote; informational materials in Braille were distributed at polling stations; assistance in voting was rendered to visually impaired people and in moving around polling stations.
Before the forthcoming election on June 8, 2016 CEC adopted resolution № 24 “On creation and additional conditions for voters with limited physical abilities during the elections of deputies to the House of representatives of the National assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the sixth convocation”. The resolutions sets additional measures: duty of volunteers on voting days in buildings where polling stations are situated for rendering all the necessary assistance to persons with disabilities and with limited physical abilities in interaction with local executive and administrative bodies should be organized. Local executive bodies should keep access to the abovementioned building, entrances and hallways in proper conditions, there also should be proper lightning and signs; they should organize work on finding elderly people, people with disabilities and other people with limited physical abilities who want to cast their votes at home; to take other measures aimed at improving the level of accessibility of premises for voting and for election campaign for people with limited physical abilities.
Representatives of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities mention that the resolution of 2015 has set first procedures assisting independent voting for persons with visual impairments, but the resolution of 2016 doesn’t make a significant step forward and doesn’t give guarantees of non-discrimination for persons with disabilities during election process because of the variety of barriers.
The resolution solves only some aspects of issue of inaccessibility of electoral process. It can ease a little bit the situation for persons with mobility issues, but there are no any steps aimed at making people with disabilities members of electoral commissions, they cannot accessibly get information about elections and, what is very important, become candidates.
There is a positive norm recommending to attract NGOs of people with disabilities to preparation to elections. But we have to remember about not sufficient organizational development of almost all of these organizations: not every polling station has specialists from NGOs of persons with disabilities possessing needed expert qualification on issues of promotion of accessibility of electoral process.
Taking into account the abovementioned facts the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities welcomes the development of accessibility of the electoral process in the Republic of Belarus and offers to introduce sufficient norms of ensuring the accessibility of the electoral process obligatory to all the subjects of the process. There is a need in a common imperative of prohibition of discrimination in electoral process; demand of organization of accessibility of polling stations, places for meeting with voters, measures of provision of equality for participation of candidates in cases of disability issues.
The Office’s specialists consider that in Belarus there are all the necessary grounds for preparation, introduction and further fulfillment of election accessibility norms. The organization is ready to take active and direct participation in preparation of such norms.