Volume 2 Issue 20 - October 15, 2004

Historic by-elections held in India

DNIS News Network - For the first time in the history of independent India, visually impaired voters were able to exercise their franchise in an independent and dignified manner, with their right to secret ballot.

The Election Commission (EC) finally decided on October 5 that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) to be used in the current by-elections in the 213 Asif Nagar assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh shall have stickers pasted to the right of the blue button (that is, the candidate's button) denoting the serial numbers of the candidates in Braille. Dummy ballot sheets will also be prepared and kept at the polling booths, containing the serial numbers of the contesting candidate, their names and the party affiliation against the name of the candidate. These dummy ballot sheets in Braille will be prepared in English, Telugu and Urdu.

As part of a pilot project that will finally get implemented nation-wide, ballot papers in Braille have been introduced for blind voters in the Maharashtra elections. Earlier, the Bombay High Court, hearing a public interest suit, had ordered that voters with physical disabilities be provided adequate facilities at polling booths.

To begin with, out of the total of 66,000 polling stations in Maharashtra, the EC had to provide dummy ballot sheets in Braille at 9,000 polling stations in the Mumbai and Thane region. Election officials say ramps for people on wheelchairs and Braille ballot papers are also being provided in some places.

The reality, however, proved to be otherwise. According to NCPEDP's Executive Director Javed Abidi, "[In Mumbai], disabled people were disappointed once again to find that ramps were missing even in urban areas of Mumbai, in total violation of the assurance given by the EC to the Mumbai High Court." In Andhra Pradesh too hopes were dashed to the ground. Persons with disabilities came in large numbers to exercise their right to franchise, but ramps were missing in several polling booths.

For all future elections, the EC has to now ensure that the Braille facility is made available at all polling stations. The sheets will carry the names of the candidates and their party symbols. Visually impaired voters would read the sequence of candidates on the Braille paper and cast their votes on the EVMs.

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