Voting blind

LIKE everyone else wanting to have their say in who will form the next government, disabled voters will also be lining up on poll day to cast their votes.

Unfortunately for the blind, there are no ballot papers in braille, nor is the National Candidates List. And for the deaf, it is unlikely there will be someone who knows sign language at the polling station they go to.

The Fiji Deaf Association confirmed that so far, only one voter awareness training was held which was more than a week ago in Suva.

Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem confirmed there is no election material in braille but polling officials would help voters with disability.

“The blind will be assisted by the presiding officer. The blind person is able to hear. The presiding officer will read out the numbers of the candidate and the person can say ‘I choose this candidate’,” Mr Saneem said.

“We have 10 and half hours. In this election there is a lot of work being done to allow the voter opportunity to vote and then after the voter has voted, a lot of time for the polling official to ascertain the intention of the voter. The interest of the voter is paramount and there is no compromise on that.”

Similarly people with disability, especially those with issue of mobility, have to physically make their way to the polling station if prior arrangement for postal ballot has not been done.

Mr Saneem said presiding officers going to houses was not encouraged because the ballot paper goes out of the polling station and party agents and observers had to be organised to go as well.

Multinational Observer Group co-ordinator Andrew Godelzinowski said polling officials had been very diligent in dealing with people with disabilities.

“We have had some very positive reports from our observers on the way this is being managed. There also have been some concerns that the family members and others are restricted from providing assistance, something which we might consider in our recommendations,” said Mr Godelzinowski.

“The way we have seen polling station officials dealing with people with disabilities has been very good.”

People’s Democratic Party president Lynda Tabuya said the Fijian Elections Office and the whole process had failed this group of people.

She suggested a pre-recorded message that reads out the candidates be played and give the blind voter earphones to listen to in order to make their choice.

“Once the voter has identified the choice he or she can press a button to stop the recording and tell the presiding officer and one other person as a witness what the number is and then the presiding officer choose it,” she said.

“On election day we sincerely hope, voters in wheelchairs, the elderly and many others among us who may have certain disabilities will be extended all the assistance they require in order to vote,” said SODELPAs’ director communications Jese Sikivou.