Blind World Magazine

Blind voters still left in the dark.

December 04, 2005.
Malta Today - San Gwann, Malta.

Imagine having to vote in front of representatives from all political parties on election day.

Not because you are illiterate but only because the Electoral Commission refuses to allow blind people to use a template or enter the polling booth with a trusted friend who would guide you through the ballot sheet.

Ironically, both the Nationalist Party and the Malta Labour Party agree on proposals to allow blind people to vote in a more dignified and humane manner, but the commission is resisting changes to the voting system.

Come election time, blind people are still subjected to humiliating practices that have been abolished in other countries such as the United Kingdom for over 100 years.

Blind people are obliged to have their ballot paper marked by the assistant electoral commissioner in the presence of political party representatives. This means that all the people in the room would know which candidates they are voting for, dispelling any notion of a secret ballot.

Talks are currently being held between the three parties regarding changes in the electoral system. One of the subjects being discussed are the changes that would halt the current voting process for blind people.

Several suggestions have been submitted as well as tested. These suggestions include allowing a trusted friend of the voter’s choice or a template accompanied by a tape recorder announcing the candidates’ names as listed on the ballot paper.

Joe Saliba, secretary general of the Nationalist Party confirms that the electoral commission has been procrastinating about these changes.

“The electoral commission is insisting the law has to be amended before these changes can take place. We believe there is no need for the law to be changed as this amount to stationery,” Saliba says.

Louis Gatt, the MLP vice president, is pleased with the talks being held between the three parties on changes in the electoral system.

“Our aims are to make it easier and more dignified for blind people to go and vote,” he said.

However both spokesmen said their respective parties were against blind people voting with a trusted friend.

Saliba believes there are better methods which allow a greater amount of liberty, without blind people being accompanied by others.

Andrew Camilleri, a blind person who devised a voting template for the blind and campaigned for their voting rights, pointed out that the PN newspaper In-Nazzjon had editorially expressed itself in favour of the trusted friend idea.

And although the MLP had endorsed the idea in the past, Louis Gatt now says the party disagrees because “it can lead to abuse”.

Andrews Camilleri told MaltaToday that before the last general elections the electoral commission had called him to perform a voting test with the template that he had invented.

A disappointed Camilleri told this newspaper that Electoral Commissioner Carmel Degabriele and the assistant commissioner had “come up with several excuses.”

Camilleri says Degabriele, who did not reply questions by MaltaToday, had told him that the template would be uneconomical.

The electoral commissioner also refused the use of tape recorders for people who cannot read Braille – the language for the blind – as it would also be too expensive.

“We are requesting the tape recorder because people who don’t know how to read Braille would need it to tell them who the candidates are,” Camilleri said. “But it’s not true that there would be a need for 550 tape recorders. If every polling station had one polling booth it would be more than enough.”

MediaToday Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta


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