“Because I have difficulties in managing money, people say I should not vote. How wrong is that?”
Imagine you needed to do a test to be allowed to vote.
You would be asked about political parties, the political system, and even things like the speed of light. The result of a failed test? No right to vote for you!
Or, imagine your right would be taken away from you, just because you’re struggling managing your money. All of these things are happening in Europe: For people with intellectual disabilities under guardianship, the right to vote in many cases is still an unattainable dream – not to mention the right to stand for election.
In the run-up to the European elections in 2019, the European Parliament’s Committee on petitions (PETI committee) organised a hearing on the rights of persons with disabilities. One major topic was the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and their right to vote.
Inclusion Europe’s policy officer Guillaume Jacquinot and easy-to-read editor Soufiane El Amrani spoke at the meeting. They made one thing clear: the right to vote and to stand for election must become a reality for everyone!
During the hearing, Soufiane El Amrani talked about his own experiences: His right to vote had been taken away when he was put under guardianship due to problems in keeping a budget.
“In 2014, I was still allowed to vote, and now I am not anymore. I was very confused”, he said. And he added: “Because I have difficulties to manage my money, people tell me that I should not vote. How wrong is that?”
Guillaume Jacquinot explained how the very idea of testing a category of persons to grant them the right to vote is in itself discriminatory, as pointed out by the former Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg.
He also called attention to the fact that many people with intellectual disabilities have fought hard for their right to vote, and others are active in politics despite the barriers they are facing, proof of their determination and dedication to contribute to society.
How to make the European elections 2019 accessible
Even when being granted the right to vote, it might be difficult for people with intellectual disabilities to actually exercise it, due to the inaccessibility of the entire process. To address this:
- Election manifestos should be done in consultation with people with disabilities. The consultation process should be inclusive, and the manifestos should have easy-to-read versions.
- Information on how to register to vote, voting procedures, candidates etc. should be available in easy-to-read language. Civil servants should be trained to support citizens with disabilities when they want to exercise their right to vote.
- Election campaign events and meetings should be accessible, and speeches easier to understand. Members of the European Parliament should reach out to people with intellectual disabilities when organising meetings in the context of the elections, and listen to what they have to say.
- The ballots should include pictures of the candidates, or alternatively, polling stations should have them at their disposal. There should be support staff available at the polling stations.
- Remote voting solutions such as mobile polling stations and postal voting should be available.
“The EU has a role in implementing the UNCRPD, by supporting the inclusion of people with disabilities, and enabling everyone to take part in elections”, Jacquinot and El Amrani concluded.
“Even if member states have the legislative authority to regulate the right to vote and access to elections, the European elections provide an opportunity for the EU institutions to remind national leaders that all European citizens must have the opportunity to have their say and cast their vote.”