Access of persons with disabilities to the electoral process in the Republic of Moldova: achievements and perspectives
The number of stable population in the Republic of Moldova is around 3 557,6 thousand persons. According to the State Register of Voters, a number of 3.2 million citizens with the right to vote are registered. According to the data of the Ministry of Labor, Social Protection, and Family, the total number of the persons with disabilities accounts for 183 415 persons, representing about 5.2% of the total population.
Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Moldova pays a special attention to enhance the accessibility of the electoral process for the persons with disabilities. This represents one of the main objectives of the institution, also established in its Strategic Plan for 2016-2019.
The voters with special needs were not subject to international observation. The monitoring reports of the biggest observer’s mission, OSCE/ODIHR reveal that the following categories of voters were most frequently under focus: the ones residing abroad, ethnical minorities, voters from the separatist region of Transnistria, and women.
The participation of persons with disabilities in voting has represented a topic of observation for one national nongovernmental organization, during the Parliamentary elections in 2009, 2014 and the local elections in 2011. The mass-media monitoring reports during the electoral campaigns also do not reflect to what extent the persons with hearing and visual disabilities had access to the information about the candidates or about their electoral platforms.
More than a half of the polling stations are opened in public buildings. According to the data revealed by the Ombudsman reports, about 46% of the public buildings (premises of public institutions and authorities, law enforcement bodies, courts, etc.), complied to a certain extent with the accessibility conditions set for persons with mobility disabilities.
Starting with 2015, Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and the Center for Continuous Electoral Training under the CEC, have assessed the accessibility of the polling stations established in the country through the interview method and questionnaires addressed to the polling stations officers. Only 15% of them met the technical access conditions for the persons in wheelchairs.
Characteristics of the electoral system in the Republic of Moldova
The citizens elect via direct vote: the Parliament, local public administration and the President of the Republic.
The voting right is held by the citizens who have turned 18 years old, except for those who have been deprived of the respective right. One single restriction is set for the exercised of the right to elect and to be elected – the persons whose incapability has been recognized by a final court decision. This provision refers to the persons who “as a result of a mental disorder (mental disease or mental deficiency) cannot be aware of or manage their actions” (Civil Code, art. 24). This category of citizens also covers the persons with psycho-social disabilities. Currently, a draft law initiated by the Ministry of Labor, Social Protection and Family to abolish the respective restriction undergoes the legislative process of the Parliament. The given draft was positively endorsed by the Central Election Commission.
The Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova regulates 3 voting possibilities:
ordinary voting – according to the general procedures (art.53, par. 1).
assisted voting (art. 54, par. 1) - provided when the “Voter cannot fill in all by himself/herself the voting ballot and is entitled to invite in the voting booth another person, except for the members of the precinct electoral bureau, representatives of the electoral candidates and of the persons authorized to assist the electoral operations. These cases shall be registered separately in the report of the precinct electoral bureau”. The assisted voting may be considered both, in case of persons with different disabilities, as well as in case of other persons (e.g. illiterate persons, persons with reading deficiencies).
voting at the place of stay(with the mobile ballot box) (art. 55 par.4) - if due to health reasons or any other well-grounded reasons, the voter cannot come to the voting premises, the precinct electoral bureau shall appoint, upon the voter’s written request, at least 2 members of the bureau who will go with a mobile voting box and the necessary material for voting to the place where the voter stays, for him/her to vote. The requests may be lodged in written form, starting with 2 weeks before the voting day till 18.00 o’clock of the day preceding Election Day. During the Election Day, the requests may be lodged in written form till 15.00 o’clock, if a medical certificate is presented. These persons vote according to the voters’ list for voting at the place of stay, compiled by the precinct electoral bureau based on such voters’ requests, and the persons who are not included in such a list cannot vote at the place of stay. In the voters’ list, the note “voted at the place of stay” is mentioned in the row with the name of the respective person. These provisions may be also applied in case of the persons with disabilities.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by the Republic of Moldova on March 30, 2007 and ratified by the Parliament on July 9, 2010. For the purpose of implementing the UN Convention, the Parliament has adopted the Law No. 60 dated 30.03.2012 on Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, guaranteeing a number of rights to participate in public life and provides for:
the right to adequate, accessible and easily understood and used voting procedures and materials (implementation of alternative voting modalities),
the right to free opinion about political parties and their candidates, including by organization of electoral debates and radio/TV shows in mimic-gesture language, printing out electoral materials using the writing systems used by the persons with visual deficiency, and by using other information tools accessible for persons with disabilities.
The Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova, that regulates the organization of all types of elections and referendum, sets forth that the premises of the polling stations should be established, as a rule, in public buildings and shall be equipped so as to facilitate the access of elderly persons and persons with disabilities. The task to endow the respective premises with everything that is necessary is held by the local public authorities. CEC has only the role of developing the regulatory framework for uniform enforcement of the legislation in the area. Hence, via one of its decisions, the CEC provided for the polling premises to be established only at the first floor of building, in more accessible places.
Also, the Commission has approved and adjusted its own normative acts. Before the parliamentary elections from 2014, the CEC has approved an Instruction regarding the infrastructure of the polling station. This document sets forth the conditions to be met by the premises of the polling stations for conducting the voting process in good conditions. Thus, based on CEC’s request, the local public authorities (LPA) have organized the polling stations at the first floor of buildings so as to facilitate the access of persons with special needs.
In April 2015, before local elections, CEC has amended the Regulation on the electoral campaign media coverage that established recommendation for all electoral subjects to ensure accessibility of disseminated information to people with special needs by all available means - subtitles, sign language language etc.
In 2015 CEC also adopted the Declaration on the accessibility of the electoral process for disabled persons that later was transformed into the Regulation on the accessibility of the electoral process for people with disabilities (26/01/2016). According to this documents the Commission has taken the obligation to broadcast informative spots with the translation in sign language, to equip polling stations with informative and illustrative materials with enlarged font, and to adjust its websites to easily accessible format for the persons with visual impairments. The Precinct Electoral Bureaus were given the task to provide the necessary assistance for persons with disabilities and/or those with special needs. At the same time, the local public authorities were asked to adapt the polling stations, as well as the roads/paths to this polling stations, to the needs of the voters with disabilities. The documents called for political parties, election candidates and media that broadcast the electoral events, to ensure the information of voters with visual and / or hearing impairments by alternative means.
Recent achievements of the Central Election Commission
CEC cooperates actively with the civil society organizations dealing with promotion of rights and interests of the persons with special needs, so as to identify solutions for ensuring personal exercise of the right to vote.
During the parliamentary elections from 2010, CEC tested in a pilot project, a solution for the blind persons to vote without assistance. It included the use of a template-envelope with the help of which the voter identified the preferred electoral candidate. The template-envelope was manufactured of some hard material (carton), having the form and the size of the ballot paper, and having some circles cut in it, which coincided with the circles printed on the ballot paper, within which the voter should apply the stamp “voted” in line with the preferred electoral candidate, according to the rules of the Electoral Code. The ballot paper was introduced in this envelope, the voter was palpating with the fingers the cut holes, afterwards identifying the preferred candidates and applying the stamp “voted”. Hence, the voter did not need any assistance anymore. A polling station was equipped with such a template-envelope, around which persons with visual disabilities live compactly. The project was extended during the Parliamentary Elections in 2014.
Starting with General Local Elections of 2015, all the opened polling stations are equipped with special envelopes (2 envelopes per station). They were improved – besides the perforated circles (for the application of voting stamp), it had the order numbers of the candidates in Braille language. The design of the envelop permits the voter to use it independently.
Remark: the ballot is organized in a linear form, all the electoral candidates are listed from the top to the bottom in the order of their registration, maintaining the same positions during the entire electoral campaign, except for the cases when they withdraw from campaigning.
A new tool meant to facilitate the electoral procedures for the blind persons and persons with poor eyesight was implemented starting in 2011 – the special rulers for identifying the voter in the voters’ list. This ruler contains two cuts, which correspond to the respective fields in the list: name and signature of the voter. This cut helps the blind voter to sign within the quadrangle exactly in line with his/her name in the list.
It was for the first time during the 2014 parliamentary elections when CEC has standardized the electoral logistics equipment. Special voting booths (with the size of 50 cm*30cm*150cm) were procured for the persons with mobile disabilities or other persons with special needs. In case of persons with visual disabilities, the voting booths were equipped with additional light source. To facilitate the access of persons with mobile disabilities in the polling station, special ramps were established at the entrance of some polling stations. These premises were selected together with the local public authorities and “Motivation” NGO.
For the presidential elections of 2016, CEC has equipped all the polling stations with magnifying glasses, for voting of persons with partial visual impairments. Also, the Commission approved the implementation of the project „Social policies for realization of electoral rights by persons with disabilities” by a group of NGOs. The project provided two opportunities: the first is to offer the persons with visual impairments to vote by using TV closed systems (STVCI) that will be installed in polling stations and the second - to facilitate, by request, the communication process for persons with hearing impairments. STVCI systems were installed in 3 polling stations. The interpreters for persons with hearing impairments were present in 3 polling stations from the capital.
For the successful electoral education and information of persons with disabilities about the voting procedures, CEC has developed and printed, in cooperation with NGOs, the Voter’s Guide in Braille language. There was developed the audio version of this guide and a poster which shows the voting procedure. Also we shoot a methodical-didactic film "Direct and Secret Voting of Persons with Disabilities through the Special Envelope" and organized trainings for the voters with special needs All these informative materials are sent via mail to all the territorial organizations of impaired persons from Moldova. As well, trainings. Information campaigns conducted by CEC, namely video spots, are produced with sign language translation and subtitles. Similarly, press briefings and meetings of the CEC from the Elections Day, are assisted by the sign language interpreters. Also, the trainings for the electoral officials from lower electoral bodies, held by the Center for Electoral Training, includes a module dedicated to the insuring of the accessibility of the polling station, including behavior rules of the polling stations officers when they are dealing with persons with disabilities.
Inclusion of persons with disabilities in organizing the voting process
It was for the first time, during the parliamentary elections on November 30, 2014, when a person with mobile disabilities was included as member of a precinct electoral bureau. CEC organizes information campaigns to encourage the voters with special needs to become future members of electoral bodies.
As well, during the parliamentary elections in November 2014, the CEC has accredited 31 national observers from the “Motivation” Association from Moldova, of whom 16 are persons with mobile disabilities and 2 – with heating disabilities.
Objectives to be achieved by CEC in the area of inclusion of persons with special needs
CEC’s short-term objectives in the area of accessibility to voting:
setting a special column in the State Register of Voters dedicated to persons with special needs: this group of persons will be easily identified and thus it will be known to which polling stations to provide special attention. Preparation of an interactive map of the polling station, that will include information on accessibility;
involving more persons with disabilities as electoral officials (members of precinct electoral bureaus);
completing the normative framework with provisions related to the binding duty to ensure mimic-gesture translation of all informative materials related to electoral topics and of the electoral debates organized at the radio and TV;
CEC’s long-term objectives in the area of accessibility to voting:
improving continuously the normative acts so as to ensure full accessibility of the polling stations and to facilitate the electoral procedures for the persons with disabilities;
developing alternative voting means: remote voting, voting with the help of special equipment for blind persons.