Blind voters left in the dark

2011-05-23 11:58

Despite some complaints from blind voters, the SA National Council for the Blind (SANCB) has commended the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on Wednesday’s local Government elections.

“The South African National Council for the Blind once more commends the IEC on taking strides towards greater inclusivity of all South Africans into the democratic process regardless of their challenges” they said in a media statement release yesterday.

The SANCB was an accredited observer for the elections and had observers in all nine provinces on election day.

They have noted that the braille templates, designed to making voting easier for sight impaired citizens, were not made available at all voting stations.

“We are, however, mindful that this is the first time the template has been in use, so some logistical teething problems were bound to occur,” their statement read.

Earlier in the week blind voters had expressed concerns about the Braille template that had numbers in Braille from one to ten but no party numbers.

IEC officials at voting stations were to help blind voters by telling them which party went with which number on the braille template.

“To cast my vote, I need an official to tell me the correct number for my party. How do I know if they have selected the party I want? Everyone has his own agenda so you’ll never know,” said John Sechoge from the Itirileng Workshop for the Blind in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria.

In the 2009 national election, braille ballots were made available to sight-impaired voters. They were, however, discontinued as they “may have lead to some blind and partially sighted voters not voting fearing that their vote may be easily recognised,” said Shakira Hoosain, the communications officer at the SANCB.

Emily Makoko, the Facilities Manager at the Johannesburg Society for the Blind, was not at all pleased with the voting process.

“We were expecting braille ballots, they weren’t any at our voting station,” she said.

The presiding officer at the station concerned confirmed that no ballots were delivered for sight impaired voters.

The SANCB has said that the media was partly to blame for creating confusion and false expectations.

“Many media outlets and agencies kept on referring to the tactile template as ‘braille ballot paper’, which it certainly was not,” they said.

Makoko said the Johannesburg Society for the Blind would take up their concerns with the IEC.

“We need voter education so we know what to expect on voting day,” she said.

The SANCB added: “We recommend more training and information be disseminated to officials and sensitivity be done to allow officials to have a greater sense of awareness and inclusivity towards visually impaired voters.

Despite several attempts, the IEC could not be reached for comment.

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