EBU Accessible Voting video, 2019, there is also a transcript of the video text (word document)
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) mandates all state parties, including all countries in Europe, to “guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others”. This includes the casting of votes in elections, which is one of the most recognisable features of political life. Yet the standard model of elections practiced today – marking a favourite candidate or party on a paper ballot – excludes most of the 30 million European citizens with visual impairments from this core political right. However, there are multiple good practices in place across Europe.
With its AVA Project (“Accessible Voting Awareness-Raising”), EBU pulls together these good practices and develops recommendations for policy makers and elections officials on how to increase the accessibility of elections. The overall objective is that blind and partially sighted citizens across Europe can vote secretly and independently in full equality with everyone else.
The AVA Brochure
In May 2019, EBU released its brochure “Making Elections Accessible for Voters with Visual Impairments” (Download as PDF) with clear recommendations for policy makers and election commissions. This brochure is now (Dec 2020) available in Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Polish and Slovakian.
As the road to accessible voting begins with good electoral legislation, policy makers should create unified legislation for accessible elections, bring laws on assisted voting in line with the UNCRPD, and allow alternative voting methods and assistive devices.
Since accessible elections need good technical decisions and practical implementation, election officials should design accessible ballots, create useful tactile devices, explore new tools and offer tailored training to election volunteers.
The AVA Report
In November 2018, EBU released its report “Accessibility of Elections for Blind and Partially Sighted Voters in Europe” (Download as docx) as a stock-taking of the practices on accessible voting in place across Europe today. The report surveyed 24 EBU member organisations, reviewed electoral legislation in 45 European countries and analysed five methods that blind and partially sighted people use to vote in elections all over Europe: voting with an assistant, voting with a tactile device, voting by mail, voting in advance and voting electronically. A German translation of the report’s executive summary is available, as are Bulgarian, Montenegrin, Polish and Slovakian versions (Download as PDF).
Some of the key lessons in the report are:
- In over half of the countries in Europe, visually impaired voters can only vote with an assistant, compromising the secrecy of the vote.
- In 14 countries, visually impaired voters have access to a tactile device, which allows them to independently read the ballot. However, there are significant differences in the usability of these devices.
- Electronic voting, through a voting machine or a website, has the potential to make all voting steps accessible for visually impaired voters. Around 80% of EBU experts would prefer this option, but less than 10% of all countries currently offer it.
- Very few countries take into consideration the legibility of their ballot for blind and partially sighted voters, including through adequate font sizes and contrast values.
- EBU experts report several practical issues with existing voting methods, such as complex laws, lack of training or complex ballots.
- It is possible to optimise the accessibility of existing voting methods for visually impaired persons. A good starting point is to learn from existing best practices in other countries, which the report showcases.