Suffrage must be universal. Every single citizen who is enable to vote should be able to do so without discrimination on the basis of creed, race, gender or education, and must be able to do so secretly, directly, and equally. Although this last component is essential for the exercise of suffrage to take place, in some nations people with disabilities are ignored or not offered the necessary tools to partake in Democracy.
In order to overcome the barriers entailed by physical disabilities, different countries have set up some mechanisms to facilitate voting for the population. For instance, 2,600 voters with disabilities were registered to vote at the February 17 general elections in Ecuador. The National Electoral Council set up a program called “They have a right to vote,” consisting in a census of the population with these characteristics in order to give them a phone number to guarantee their commute to the polling stations. In few cases, manual voting from home was also allowed. However, in some cases, this is not enough.
Even though Ecuador’s effort is commendable, since it made participation possible for part of this sector of the population, this country still has a long way to go in terms of modernizing its electoral system and enabling suffrage to voters who require additional tools to vote.
Companies specialized in e-voting have developed devices capable of offering this country, as well as all others who have not advanced due to their lack of electoral technology, solutions to give autonomy to voters with physical disabilities (motor, limited use or absence of limbs), as well as sensory ones (hearing and visual).
For assisted technologic voting, the multinational Smartmatic offers the 4000 series SAES machines (4200 and 4300 models), designed to enable suffrage for multiple types of voters. It is equipped with a Braille system touchscreen for people with visual disabilities to vote on their own. If the visual disability is partial, voters can use earphones, as the device can read the contents of the ballot in as many languages as the jurisdiction requires. Besides, it has an interface that allows navigation through the ballot using sip and puff devices in order for voters with motor disabilities to move around the ballot. The screen is also adaptable to any height, and it can be adjusted to wheelchairs due to its shape and layout.
The market also offers different devices designed by Election Systems & Software (ES&S). One of them is AutoMARK, a machine with keyboard for those with visual disabilities. It also has a sip and puff device in case the voter can use neither the touchscreen nor the keyboard. An additional capability is that of casting ballots through pedals.
The Spanish company Indra competes in this segment with a device called Point&Vote Plus, which has peripherals for users with disabilities, such as an earphone to hear ballot information and a mouse for voters to cast their ballot.
Having seen this wide range of options offered by electoral technology, it becomes apparent that human limitations are no longer an excuse for not being able to vote. The lack of governmental disposition is the one condemning people with disabilities to disenfranchisement.