The "Bill of Electoral Rights for Citizens with Disabilities" was drafted and endorsed by participants attending a four-day workshop held from 14-17 September, 2002, in Sigtuna, Sweden. Participants from twenty-four nations included disability rights experts and activists, senior election administration officials, and representatives of the Inter Parliamentary Union, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Workshop was jointly convened by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and the International Institute on Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
In addition to endorsing the "Bill of Electoral Rights," the workshop participants discussed and drafted a set of "Standards of Electoral Access for Citizens with Disabilities." These Standards are integral to and explanatory of the "Bill of Electoral Rights for Citizens with Disabilities."
The Standards which follow are based on Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as interpreted by the UN Committee on Human Rights General Comment 25, "The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights, and the right of Equal Access to Public Service."
These standards will in the future need further elaboration to address other important issues, such as the right to stand for public office.
Non-Discrimination: Enfranchising all Citizens with Disabilities
The right to vote must be enjoyed and exercised without discrimination. Everyone must have the right to free and equal access to participate, as well as the effective opportunity to participate, in electoral processes without discrimination of any kind.
Accordingly, individuals with intellectual disabilities or psychiatric disorders, or any other disability, have an equal right to register to vote, and the concomitant equal right to vote. Individuals who are deprived of their physical or economic liberty, (for instance, through institutionalization or court-appointed guardianship), or who are subject to compulsory treatment, may not thereby be excluded from or suspended in exercising their universal electoral rights.
It would be discriminatory to test any one individual or group of individuals to ascertain whether s/he/they have the capacity to cast an informed, intelligent or rational vote. To be non-discriminatory, any such test would need to be applied to the entire electorate.
Effective Opportunity: The State's Obligation to "Overcome Specific Difficulties"
States are obligated
to take "effective measures to overcome specific difficulties"
to ensure that their citizens are able to exercise the universal right
to register to vote, as well as the right to vote in public on equal terms
with others. Accordingly, States must:
In meeting its obligations to overcome specific barriers, states should consult with democratically elected representatives of organizations of people with disabilities and their families, and through these consultations, identify and make use of new and appropriate technologies and mechanisms.
Any violation of these rights shall entitle the victim to seek an effective administrative, legal, or judicial remedy.
The Right to a Secret Vote in Public
The right to vote
in secret is a cornerstone of any free and democratic society. Denying
that right to voters with disabilities undermines democracy. It also violates
the universal right to participate freely and on equal terms in public
life, guaranteed by international human rights law. That right includes
the right to vote at public polling stations.
Mechanized voting systems must apply the principle of universal design, enabling voters with mobility or sight impairments to use the same voting machines as all other citizens.
Paper ballot systems must provide accommodations (tactile, Braille and/or audio guides, for example) to ensure that voters with visual impairments can cast an independent and secret ballot;
Off-site voting procedures must be available to voters who are unable to vote at public polling stations, and must ensure ballot secrecy. (A separate section discusses off-site voting in greater detail).
Providing Options to Voters
The process by which a voter casts her or his vote must respect the dignity and self-determination of the voter. The electoral system must provide the opportunity for all individuals to vote in public and in secret, and to mark a ballot directly, without assistance.
With this understanding, election authorities should provide voters with other alternate "effective measures" and opportunities, to be freely chosen by the voter. Such measures may include assisted or off-site voting. These options supplement, but do not supplant, the voter's right to vote at public polling stations.
Assisted voting may constitute one form of "effective measure" to enable citizens to exercise their right to vote. The decision to be assisted in the process of voting must be one that is freely made by the voter.
When used, assisted voting mechanisms must include safeguards to protect the universal right to vote, to protect the voter from manipulation, and to ensure the secrecy of the ballot. These safeguards include:
a. The right of the
voter to decide who provides assistance;
Effective measures to ensure the right to vote may include off-site voting. Such measures supplement, but do not supplant, the right of the voter to vote at public voting stations.
Effective off-site voting measures should include:
i. Sufficient resources
to enable election authorities to use off-site voting mechanisms to ensure
that all citizens can exercise their universal electoral rights;
Guidelines for Ensuring Secrecy and Security for Mobile Voting.
The following safeguards for mobile voting are derived from those established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights:
1. A procedure must
be in place to identify voters using mobile facilities to prevent double
Promulgation of Instructions
In meeting their obligations to enable citizens with disabilities to fully exercise their electoral rights, election authorities should promulgate non-discriminatory regulations and instructions to educate polling staff, election authorities, and society about the electoral rights of persons with disabilities, and about the manner in which these citizens can exercise their right to vote.