Voting and standing as candidate in Europe: what is it like for persons with disabilities?

For our 6th Human Rights Report on political participation, we collected and gathered testimonials from persons with disabilities willing to share their stories about legal and practical barriers to their right to vote and stand for local and European elections. Discover their stories!

About the right to vote of persons with disabilities

  • The first time I tried to vote was in 2007, when I was 20 years old. I went to the polling station and they told me I was not in the voting list! I was very surprised, because I was well over the legal age to vote. I was very annoyed that I could not do something that all my family and friends could do, I felt invisible. They didn’t even tell me why I was not on the list.

    It took more than 2 years for me and my family to discover why, and thanks to the help of organisations like Plena Inclusion. They told me that I was under full guardianship. The authorities and the courts were afraid that people would take advantage of me and influence my vote. So, they decided to remove my right to vote. This is not fair, I am a citizen like any other and should have the same rights.

    It was very difficult to get back my right to vote. Even when we knew why, the authorities were not able to tell us exactly how to do it: first they told me to go to a psychiatric hospital to do a test, then they told me it had to see my family doctor. When I finally took the test, they asked me weird and difficult questions such as: What is the speed of light? Who was Catherine the Great? Who was Isaac Newton? And I wonder…how is this related to voting? It is very unfair.

    This whole process took a long time: I was only be able to vote last year, in 2018, more than 10 years after I tried to vote for the first time.

    There is much that needs to be improved: all persons with disabilities need to have the right to vote and we need more documents in easy to read. Right now, there are people that have to choose between their rights and the possibility of having a disability allowance. This is an unfair choice.

    Adolfo Barroso - Spain
    Picture ofAdolfo Barroso - Spain

About casting the vote

  • I’m both Romanian and Belgium and voted more than 10 times in my life. I was never able to vote alone: I had to have either a friend or someone from the electoral commission. It was already bas not to have privacy to vote, but in Belgium is worse: the electronic vote is completely inaccessible, and they required someone from the electoral commission, that I don’t know and don’t trust, to vote for me. How can I assure they vote for the right candidate?

    If I could have one thing, it’s accessible voting machines – they exist, but still not in Belgium. I could finally go and vote alone

    Loredana Dicsi, Internal Communication and Membership Officer
    Picture ofLoredana Dicsi, Internal Communication and Membership Officer

About standing as candidate

  • “I got into politics and I wasn’t given much support so it wasn’t easy to be a politician when you really didn’t know and you didn’t get the support that you need. I mean one of the challenges that I had was that you do have the double cost in order to be mobile, to incorporate your disability within the work that you do. We don’t have an accessible society out there so it is a challenge but you have to try to manage within it anyway.”
    Jamie Bolling, Disabled Refugees Welcome

About polling booths and polling stations

  • “I vote every time and for every election: 10 – 12 elections until now, local, national and European. One of the main problems I have is with the secrecy of vote. In one of my first-time voting, the booth screen was too high – I could ride my chair to the booth, but everyone could see whom I voted for. I made a suggestion for a more accessible booth, and the next time they had a better booth. But problems persist until today!”
    Pirkko Mahlamäki, Finnish Disability Forum

About public media

  • “When I was growing up in Poland, the only way to pick your political side was really by talking to friends and family. Newspapers were state-controlled. TV debates were and still are not accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people due to a lack of live subtitling of live debates. You can of course read newspapers but from my own experience and perspective, it is live debates which bring more understanding of the candidate views, persona, and how they present themselves.”
    Lidia Best – Poland

About alternative means to vote

  • “In the last European elections, I voted in my post office, where there were no accessible booths. The process was a shamble, I had to face the corner and make my vote there. That was not acceptable. It is not difficult to make arrangements for me to have an election experience equal to others…”

    Pirkko Mahlamäki, Finnish Disability Forum

About the secrecy of vote

  • “For me, the accessible vote was an empowerment. Before it was quite uncomfortable to ask for help to vote because you are revealing the exercise of a right which is secret. In my case, at home we had similar ideologies, so it was not a drama, but I know this was different for other blind colleagues. The fact of being able to choose myself is very comfortable and fair. The most convenient would be some sort of electronic vote system, but this would imply some problems of privacy and security.

    The Braille kit system in Spain has some elements to improve though. It would also be good that we have this possibility in municipal elections too, which doesn’t exist right now and it’s the closest authority we vote for. And, secondly, it would be most convenient if we would receive the Braille kit at home, instead of at the polling station, so you can organize your vote at home. It would also be good for security reasons, because if you get into the voting booth you might also be controlled, and the secrecy of your vote could be compromised”.

    Sergio Gay Laudes, Spain

About the importance of representation

  • “I speak for many people with disabilities who are not able to raise their voices. When other colleagues in the European Parliament see you they start seeing ​the importance of our issues, and they take you seriously. It gives you the space to say: “Okay I am here”, the only one, and that is not positive, but you have the power. People listen to your voice; you can motivate other women and girls with disabilities to think. It is not forcibly spoken, but if you are a politician in a government or a parliament, you can really change something that makes a difference for persons with disabilities or women. And if we don’t want others talking about us, we have to go outside and talk for ourselves.”
    MEP Katrin Langensiepen

About voting experiences as a EU mobile voter

  • “Now I live in France, but I haven’t yet taken part in the elections due to my timing moving to Paris. I can more compare Belgium and Germany. I had mixed experiences, and most of them were negative.
    In terms of registration, the easiest was in Germany. Once you are registered as a German citizen, you receive the election card directly to your home address. It is a good reminder that the election will come. It also allows you to choose for a postal vote. There is nothing you need to do in terms of going and registering yourself to get on an electoral database.

    In Germany, I could enjoy postal voting as it is common practice for a large part of the population. The advantage of postal vote is that you get the list and the materials to your place, and you can go through the materials with a person of your choice. A few years later, Germany introduced some more formats provided by national DPOs that allowed voters with disabilities to read the materials, identify the political parties on the list, and know where to add a cross to make their vote valid.

    In Belgium, my experience was different because I was a European and not a national citizen. I was only taking part in the local and European elections. To register on the electoral list, I had to go the extra mile as a EU citizen and someone who wanted to participate in the local and European elections. For voters in general, including persons with disabilities, it is an extra step to overcome.
    The elections in which I took part in Belgium were based on electronic voting. I had to go to the polling station on election day and vote by inserting a card in a computer. For me, it was very problematic to some extent. I went there naively, without receiving any official information ahead of time or when registering to the town hall, discovering the voting system on the spot, and not being able to choose a person of trust to come with me. So, when I got to the polling station, one of the officials came with me to the booth and cast the vote for me. He knew who I voted for. Equally important, I had no means of verifying if the person had executed my will and no means to control that. I felt powerless when elections should be about feeling empowered.

    Secrecy of the vote is an issue for blind persons like me, whether we talk about places or formats. But it can be overcome. I think the way forward in terms of voting, secrecy, and accessibility is electronic voting. Not in the way I described it, but the Estonian way, where you can cast your vote from home. You have the time to do it, and it is accessible. So, you can do it by yourself. Of course, the accessibility must be 100% correct. Otherwise, it can completely exclude you from the vote.”

    Lars Bosselmann - About his experience as a EU mobile voter

About free choice of assistance

  • “After having participated in all the electoral processes of recent years, both my colleagues with visual disabilities and I have faced the inappropriate and contradictory operation of the electoral process regarding our participation in it. By the inappropriate and contradictory operation of the electoral process, I refer to the attitude of returning officer who is responsible, as they claim, for applying the existed legal framework by not allowing the blind person to choose the person that they trust to accompany them to the voting booth. This situation underlines the contradictory attitude of the state since, on the one hand, it does not allow persons with disabilities to choose how they want and prefer to vote, while on the other hand, it has enacted the law 4074/2012 through which it ratifies the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Therefore, it is inconceivable that the person trusted by the blind voter should be considered as they are violating the secrecy of the ballot while the unknown official who will accompany the blind voter to the voting booth is not. We hope that the Greek state soon will reach a final solution since the way the electoral process currently operates violates both the secrecy of the ballot, as foreseen by the Greek Constitution, and the right of persons with disabilities to vote without barriers.”

    Dimitris Logaras, National Confederation of Disabled People, Greece