Politics, World, Africa

Liberia’s visually-impaired set to vote for first time

Registered voters voice concern over lack of training on how to use tactile ballot system

Liberia’s visually-impaired set to vote for first time FILE PHOTO

By Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh

MONROVIA, Liberia 

Visually-impaired Liberians will for the first time get a chance to vote in the upcoming general election on Tuesday, but a lack of training on how to use special ballot devices may still leave many out.

Emmanuel Koyo, a 30-year-old visually-impaired man who survives by begging on Broad Street in capital Monrovia, told Anadolu Agency that he was looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the vote that will see the end of the two-term rule of Africa’s first female President, Ellen Johnson Sirelaf.

Koyo said he will go to vote with all his visually-impaired friends but voiced concern about whether he would be able to use the tactile ballot system.

The tactile voting device enables a visually impaired person to mark a ballot paper in secret without getting help from anyone.

“I only heard on radio that we will use tactile ballot guide to vote our candidates, but no one has come to teach us on its usage,” he said.

“We are many blind people here on the streets who want to vote independently.”

Out of a population of 4 million, Liberia has a little over 76,000 visually-impaired people of all genders, ages and sex, out of whom more than 3,000 have registered as voters in an election.

According to the National Elections Commission, tactile ballot system would enable the visually impaired community to vote on their own.

Inadequate training

In the system, a plastic device is attached to a ballot that consists of a number of flaps, with each flap covering the boxes on paper. A number, corresponding to the covered box, is embossed in black on each flap. The number shows up against the white background of the ballot paper, and is raised so it can be identified by touch of the hand.

Once the voter knows which number corresponds to the candidate that one wants to vote on, one can lift the relevant flap or flaps and leave their thumb print using with ink.

The Christian Association of the Blind said the system is not as simple as it may sound and several people who have never used such a method may find it difficult on the first try.

Association President Beyan Kota said the late start of training of visually-impaired people in the country on how to use tactile ballot was worrisome.

Kota told Anadolu Agency “Not only are we concerned about going to vote on the day of election, but training blind people almost three weeks to the elections on the usage of the tactile ballot guide is not enough.

“The three weeks period only afforded the Elections Commission to train the trainers, but those who have been trained cannot reach to the many registered blind people all across the country before Oct. 10th.”

National Elections Commission’s Gender Director Leisel Talery told Anadolu Agency that about 1,200 mock tactile ballots had been brought into the country for training and at least 30,000 tactile ballot guides for visual impaired people.

Talery did not speak about the possibility of trainers not being able to reach all registered visually impaired voters prior to the elections.

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