Differently abled persons lobby GECOM to make voting process easier
By Isanella Patoir
With less than 90 days before general and regional elections, the Guyana Council for Persons with Disabilities has made numerous recommendations to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) aimed at making the voting process easier.
These recommendations were made Friday during a one-day National Disability conference held at the National Library in Georgetown.
In Guyana, there are no policies in place for persons with a disability to vote independently. Usually, a person with a disability has to be accompanied to the polling booth by a relative.
Ganesh Singh, an executive member of the Guyana Society for the Blind recommended that persons in a wheelchair are given a portable voting booth.
For persons who are blind or visually impaired, Singh recommended that a three-dimensional cardboard template of the ballot paper is used on top the actual ballot.
However, Singh said there is a need for sensitization and awareness for both the disability community and GECOM officials before any measure is implemented as he recalled what happened at the last elections when a system was put in place for visually impaired persons to vote.
“We were told by former chairman of GECOM Dr Steve Surujbally that the slates were sent in all the ballot boxes but because it was done very late the GECOM personnel were not aware of the purpose of the slate hence it was not used on the day,” Singh recalled.
In February this year, India implemented braille voting slips for persons who are blind while in Northern Ireland polling stations implemented access ramps for persons in wheelchairs and special equipment for voters with a visual impairment.
It was highlighted that they are approximately 30,000 persons with a disability in Guyana who are eligible to vote.
Singh, who is visually impaired, also spoke about his experiences in voting by way of proxy.
“Persons who are blind we have to vote either by proxy or through accompanied voting, we can never be sure that the person we ask to vote on our behalf they put the X where we press them to,” Singh said.
Chairman of the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities, Cecil Morris said that the organisation has been trying for the past 10 to 15 years for GECOM to put these systems in place for the differently-abled.
“We must be able to go to a polling station without a hassle and cast our vote, it is important to us to play a part and especially at this point in time in the development of Guyana,” the Chairman said.
Meanwhile, United States Ambassador to Guyana Sarah Ann Lynch said there should be inclusivity and respect for all persons in the democratic process regardless of race, gender and disability.
The Ambassador noted that access is not always easy in Guyana for persons with disabilities.
She said the US will be supporting a comprehensive voter education and recommended some measures that can make voting more accessible.
“For example, providing options for the blind or visually impaired Guyanese to vote privately and independently; outlining special instructions for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing and building ramps and slip-resistant surfaces and things of that nature,” the Ambassador said.
Present at the conference Friday was Government nominated GECOM Commissioner Charles Corbin who noted that the Commission is always supportive of persons with disabilities.
“This has engaged our attention sometimes and we have internal discussions as to what we need to put at the disposal to facilitate that access, we have had some of our operatives in the field on the day [elections day] make some adjustments and we had some controversy because when we have to depart in what is the standard arrangement of voting it requires a policy decision,” Corbin said.
Corbin noted that GECOM in the past had difficulty in determining what disabilities exist and where. He said if this information provided, then GECOM will know what arrangements to put in place at the various polling stations.
However, the Commissioner noted that since the election is within 90 days, it is not guaranteed that the measures proposed Friday would actually be implemented before elections next year.