Steps towards 2019 Malawi polls: Voting by persons with special needs

 As we get closer to polling on October 17, 2017 the Commission has been holding public meetings to sensitise the public on polling procedures and the need to turn out in large numbers for polling.
A senior citizen voting in national elections

A senior citizen voting in national elections

This week we focus on the measures put in place to help voters with special needs to access all voting processes with ease and exercise their right to vote without compromising the secrecy of their ballot.
It is imperative to note that during polling in the next by-election as it happens with all other elections; persons with special needs are helped with priority. Expectant mothers, the sick, the elderly, persons with disabilities and albinism are not supposed to queue. Once they reach the polling station they are supposed to identify themselves to the ushers or security personnel who will help them to get to the front of the queue for immediate assistance.
Persons with visual challenges are provided with assistance as per provision of the law. The law states that  such persons as these should bring along someone whom they trust to assist them in voting but not making a choice for them. That person should be a registered voter. If they fail to bring someone, then only the Presiding Officer alone should assist that person. The Commission has in the past faced cases where monitors and observers have wanted to also be part of the people assisting those who did not bring someone to help them vote.  All electoral monitors and observers should understand this provision in the law. Doing things differently violates the secrecy of the ballot and is unlawful.
During voting on October 17, apart from the provision of the law, the Commission will provide tactile ballot templates which will enable persons with visual impairment to vote on their own.
The clerk issuing the ballot papers will also issue the voter with special needs a tactile ballot template and demonstrate how to use it. The clerk or Presiding Officer shall then lead the voter to the ballot booth and then withdraw to give the voter a chance to choose a candidate of his/her choice in secret.
After marking on the ballot paper and folding it, the voter shall be guided again by polling staff to the ballot box to cast the vote.
Polling is done outside and not in classrooms, which makes it easy for those using wheel chairs or with mobility challenges to access all the stages of polling process without challenges. The polling booths are also adjustable. They can be lowered so that the voter can still vote while on the wheel chair.
After voting the ballot paper should be folded in half with the marked side being inside, and then folded again in another half and then the voter can proceed to drop it in the ballot box. At this point the voting process is complete and the voter is free to go home and wait for results.
As a reminder, the choice of a candidate is made by ticking inside the box that is next to the symbol and picture of the candidate of voter’s choice. Voters are encouraged to make sure that the tick fits inside the box and does not spill to the other boxes. If the voter is unable to tick, then a thumb print in the box will suffice. Careful attention should be paid to ensure that the ballot paper is not smudged because that can lead to the vote being rendered null and void. Voters should not write their names, initials or any information that can identify them. This will compromise the secrecy of the vote during counting.
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