Voters of Europe stories
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 aloneLoredana Dicsi, Internal Communication and Membership Officer
I vote every time and every election : 10 – 12 elections until now, local, national and european, student bodies, church..
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 an more accessible booth, and the next time they had a better booth
But problems persist until today! 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: my student union did it. They quickly arranged for an accessible booth for me, they just put some books to elevate the ballot box. In all the other years, they did prepare in advance this booth and I could vote in privacy like everyone else. “Pirkko Mahlamäki, Finnish Disability Forum
I grew up in Canada but I have lived in Belgium one third of my life.
I never faced accessibility challenges in the democratic process: the buildings and voting stations were always accessible. It was always a good experience, and I was always able to vote.
For the recent local elections, the Brussels-Capital Region prepared a great guide on how to ensure that voting stations are accessible and on how to support persons with disabilities during voting.
Not all is positive though: the electronic voting system (with a tactile screen) was not accessible for blind and partially sighted users. It would be quite easy, however, to add audio features.
In Brussels 83% percent of voting stations were accessible – that’s pretty good but it should be 100%.
In these elections I also noticed problems with access to information. Political parties don’t seem to be concerned with making their materials accessible – many people with disabilities weren’t as informed as they wish. Accessible information is critical to the democratic process and ensures that people can make an informed choice.
Growing up in Canada, I was always very politically active – environmental issues, women’s rights, disability rights, nuclear disarmament.
When I arrived Belgium, I wanted to get involved at a local level. I helped create neighbourhood committees that brought people together around common causes.
I also got involved in promoting democracy. In Belgium, non-nationals can only vote in local elections. We are one third of the population in Brussels and we should have a voice at all levels of decision-making. I am one of the founders of the campaign 1Bru1Vote which advocates for the right for non-nationals to vote at the regional (metropolitan) level in Brussels – this is where decisions are taken about mobility, air quality and urban planning, for example. I was also actively involved in a campaign to encourage non-nationals to make use of their existing right to vote in the recent local elections.
We need to work on many levels towards a more inclusive society, and this means ensuring that everyone – persons with disabilities, women, non-nationals can participate in democracy. It is all part of the same challenge.
This is also why I accepted to join the Ecolo-Groen list and run for city councillor where I live. I ran as an independent, as part of civil society. We had a great result: I was elected and Ecolo-Groen now has the majority in the city council.
Local authorities in Belgium have a lot of responsibilities, including infrastructure, public spaces, local services, education. By the end of my mandate I hope to see more citizen participation. I hope to make my district, Ixelles, more inclusive. It’s not just about being more accessible but it’s also about awareness training on the needs of persons with disabilities. You will see a real difference by 2024.”
The voting stations in my area are in schools, which still have a few steps. Since I cannot overcome them alone, I often vote in advance in the town hall. At least, we have alternative methods of voting in Lithuania.
Schools were renovated this year so maybe next time I can vote in the local voting stations. We will see.. if not, I will do as before.”