NEWS

Disabled ‘Can Choose Assistant’ For Poll Day

People chosen by physically disabled persons to help them during voting will be arrested by Police if they mark a different number that the disabled person tells them. For the
19 Sep 2018 11:50
Disabled  ‘Can Choose  Assistant’  For Poll Day
Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem (standing near table) explains the voting process for persons with disabilities and the role of party agents at a polling venue during a voting mock exercise on September 18, 2018 in Laucala Beach. Photo: Ronald Kumar

People chosen by physically disabled persons to help them during voting will be arrested by Police if they mark a different number that the disabled person tells them.

For the first time, persons with disabilities can be accompanied by a person of their choice to the polling venue to assist them on election day.  Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem also clarified that people who are chosen to assist persons with disabilities cannot cast their vote at the same time as the person with disability.

At the voting compartment both parties will be joined by the Presiding Officer who will supervise the process.

“If at this point in time the person with disability says he would like to vote for a particular number and the assistant marks another number then the presiding officer will not allow that ballot paper to go in the ballot box and instead call the Police officer for this person to be arrested,” Mr Saneem said yesterday during the mock polling day voting process at the Fijian Elections Office warehouse in Laucala Beach.

“And thereafter the presiding officer will get the second ballot paper and under the supervision of the assistant presiding officer they will assist the person with disability.”

Persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant mothers, are among the few groups that are entitled to be assisted by the FEO on polling day. The public are urged to allow the disabled first access to the polling stations so that they are able to conclude their election process quickly while those who are able to stand in line can wait.

Voting scenarios

During the mock exercise Mr Saneem detailed different scenarios and the process that a voter would go through on election day.

When a person with disability approaches the polling station, they will be greeted by a queue controller at the entrance who will then assist them to the polling officer. The person with disability will inform the officer that they have brought someone to assist them in voting.

“The voter will then be directed to the Presiding Officer who will give the person with disability and the person assisting them a brochure to read on how to assist persons with disability,” Mr Saneem explained.

“The presiding officer will then record who is being assisted and record the details of the person assisting them before signing off on it.

“Then the PO will accompany the disabled person as well as the person assisting them through the process of issuing the ballot paper, and give them instructions on how to mark the ballot paper.”

At the voting compartment there are two options available to persons with disabilities on how they can cast their vote.

“If a person is on wheelchair there is a portable voting screen for them. It can be placed on the voter’s lap and the person can still mark the ballot paper. Another option is if a person is blind they will be assisted to the voting screen and the presiding officer is going to supervise the assistance,” Mr Saneem said.

Political party representatives were informed that their polling agents should expect three people at the voting screen when assistance is being provided to persons with disabilities and to help them drop their ballot paper in the ballot box. After voting the normal process will be followed with the inking of the finger of the person with disability and casting their ballot.

Hearing disability

Those with a hearing disability will be provided a booklet of assisted voting steps that the presiding officer will guide them through so that they can visually understand the process.

“If someone has difficulty with their eyesight and need assistance they can be given the magnifying glass, which may help them see things a little bit clearer if it is in small writing,” Deputy Elections Supervisor Karyl Winter said.

“If they would like the FEO to work with them while they go through the voting process the presiding officer and a witness which will be the assistant presiding officer or a polling day worker will go with them to assist them as they go through the process.”

The FEO will also have a record of everyone who is assisted by them on polling day.

Disability sheds

The FEO will also set up disabled friendly sheds, which will all have the same design.

Presiding officers can take the voting screens and ballot box outside for persons with disabilities in the case a polling station is not disabled friendly and the person is unable to enter it.

FEO sheds will be erected at locations where there is no suitable building available as a polling venue, and every shed will have a washroom next to it.

Reactions

Anaseini Vakaidia, a project officer with United Blind Persons Fiji and a member of the Election Disability Access Workshop Group, said: “This is the first time persons with disability are allowed to bring a person of their own choice to the polling venue and I think it is a great initiative taken by the Fijian Elections Office,” Ms Vakaidia said.

National Federation Party

The party’s vice president Seni Nabou says as far as NFP is concerned there is still much more work to be done by the Fijian Elections Office before they can be comfortable about technical and administrative electoral integrity.

Party agents

Party agents who wish to be based at polling venues on election day need to go through an accreditation process.

At the venue they will be directed to the Presiding Officer where they will be required to present their authorisation letter.

A code of conduct will then be given to them which they have to familiarise themselves with.

“Without reading the code of conduct the party agents will not be given their accreditation,” Mr Saneem stated.

After reading the code of conduct the agent is then required to write down their full name, details of their party, their signature and time in the record book before they are given their identification cards.

Before agents leave the polling stations they are required to return their ID’s because it cannot be used in the other stations. Agents have to go through the accreditation process at every polling station they go to. Once the agents receive their ID’s there are allocated areas in the polling station for agents and observers. There are two critical areas in the stations, where people get signed in to receive their ballot paper and the second area is where they drop their ballot paper in the box. Agents can sit or stand at the back provided they do not interfere in the process.

“Please avoid going to the voting screen which is a no-go zone. Please do not wear party identifiers where voters can see. It is advisable for people to wear neutral clothes so that it does not give off any kind of campaign indication to voters or inducement,” Mr Saneem said.

Election ‘voluntary’

Mr Saneem said election was voluntary and people could walk into the polling station, sign, receive the ballot paper but decide not to drop it in the ballot box.

“It is not mandatory to do it. We want everyone to do it, but you must note that people can still choose not to drop the ballot paper in the box and walk home with it, which was the case in 2014,” he said.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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