The progress of technology, aside from facilitating and improving processes in numerous realms of human endeavor, is also useful to expose governmental negligence. Next May, Spain will hold municipal and autonomous elections. Although the nation has been running tests and analyses for years in order to take steps into e-voting, in recent weeks authorities have acknowledged that people will disabilities will not be able to exert their right to suffrage in the upcoming elections.
The Executive Branch has pointed out that it is “technically impossible” to use a voting system accessible to people with visual impairments, due to the large number of candidacies in the 8,116 municipalities that will go to the polls this time. The government has even mentioned that the Organic Law of the General Electoral Regime (LOREG) contemplates just one specific voting procedure for the visually impaired (ballots in Braille), but only for general elections, European elections, and referenda; thus leaving out municipal elections, and altogether excluding voters with disabilities other than visual impairment.
This recent official statement is at odds with the fundamental rights of members of any society; worse yet, knowing that in other parts of the world technology has contributed to balance the exercise of suffrage. Physical or sensory disabilities no longer pose a restriction for voters to cast their ballots and benefit from the right to vote in an universal, free, direct, secret, and equal manner. Aside from representing the best option for citizens to gain access to fast, reliable, and transparent elections, e-voting has bestowed a new meaning to equal suffrage. It has offered autonomy to voters with physical disabilities (motor disabilities, limb impairment, absence of limbs), as well as sensory ones (visual and hearing impairment).
For example, the US and Venezuela employ vastly different voting models, but they both have implemented equipment supporting the Braille system for visually impaired voters and providing headphones for illiterate voters, as well as “sip and puff” tools to facilititate suffrage for people with motor problems.
In Spain, e-voting has had numerous trials. The first one took place in 1995 and the latest one in 2011 in Castellón, Ceuta, Huesca, and Merida. However, no autonomous community has been able to take the initiative and regulate automation.
Spanish deputy Joan Valdoví considers that the Spanish Government “is still living in the 19th century” and has been incapable of “adapting to new technologies to make democracy truly accessible to all citizens.”
Electoral technology has made the assisted vote possible thanks to a new generation of cutting-edge machines; e.g., touchscreen devices with Braille system for people with visual disability to vote on their own, or devices with headphones where the machine reads the contents of the ballot in as many languages as required. Moreover, there are interfaces that enable ballot navigation using “sip and puff” devices, so that voters with motor limitations can browse through options in the ballot.
There are no excuses for discrimination. What Spain and other nations require is the resolve and a sense of equality in the exercise of suffrage, as technology is available to guarantee every citizen’s right to vote. It is time to acknowledge that people with any kind of physical impairments have the same rights to vote as anyone else.