By Zukile Majova,
In South Africa, thousands of Independent Electoral Commission (I.E.C.) staff underwent training on the rights of visually impaired voters before the local government elections. Elections in South Africa were held in March 2006.
Mawethu Mosery, the Provincial Electoral Officer in KwaZulu-Natal, said, I.E.C. staff were educated about the provisions of the Secret Ballot of Blind Voters Act before the local government elections. He said there were various options available to blind people, including the plate system.
In the plate system, blind voters insert a ballot paper inside a wooden plate, shaped like the ballot, and use their fingers to find the party’s number on the paper. Other options used abroad include an electronic voting system, which was used in India last year and the provision of ballot papers in Braille. Mosery said Braille ballot papers could not be used because there were only a few blind voters in the province and even fewer who were literate in Braille.
The step comes in the wake of complaints – from organisations working for blind and visually impaired people in the country – about presiding officers’ ignorance. Limited knowledge of the provisions of the Secret Ballot of Blind Voters Act has previously left many blind voters frustrated. Cathy Donaldson, President of an organisation called Blind SA, said: “Presiding officers were not aware that blind voters are allowed to bring friends or relatives older than 18 years, to help them choose a party of their choice. They would want to assist the voter or instruct party agents to do so, thereby compromising the secrecy of the ballot.”
Ms. Donaldson hoped that the concerns of blind and visually impaired voters would be addressed by the education campaign.