Friday, January 6, 2017

Rwanda set to use blind-friendly ballot papers


Kigali. Blind and visually-impaired Rwandan voters will be able to cast their votes in the upcoming presidential elections using Braille ballot papers, according to National Electoral Commission (NEC).

Braille ballot paper is a special ballot paper designed for visually-impaired people to assist them in casting their votes during elections. The template is a sturdy plastic sheet, which is placed over the ballot paper. Each candidate’s name is braille embossed on the sheet with a little window on the right hand side where visually impaired people can make their crosses. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Charles Munyaneza, Executive Secretary of NEC, said that visually impaired voters will this time cast their votes without any help using braille ballot papers. “It will be the first time the braille system is applied in the country’s elections. Previously they had to depend on sighted assistance of relatives, friends or electoral officers to vote on their behalf,” he added.

Munyaneza explained that the system would do away with concerns that some guides can take advantage of the voter’s inability to see what they are doing, and go on to manipulate their choice. NEC says that by July, voters’ register including visually impaired persons will be available showing who can vote using braille. Over 6.6 million Rwandans are expected to vote in the forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for August 4, 2017. Rwandans abroad will cast their votes on August 3, and Rwandan residents will follow suit on August 4, according to poll organizers. The NEC indicated that on June 5-14, it will be receiving applications for presidential candidates and the final list of candidates will be announced on June 27 as the campaigns for the qualified candidates will officially begin on July 14 and end on August 3, just a day before the elections.

Rwanda National Council for Persons with Disabilities estimates there are about 177,000 visually impaired people in the country, but the ongoing update of voters’ register will discern those who can use braille and are of age and are eligible to vote. The braille application will not affect the existing budget set aside for polls activities, according to the NEC.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame is expected to seek a third term in 2017, after the approval of constitutional changes that could allow him to run for another term in office. Kagame has been president since 2000, and was then elected in 2003 and 2010. (NMG)