On the same lines the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has plans to address the disabled people’s right to vote.
The Constitution in Article 9, section 22 states that, “The State shall endeavor to provide security in the event of sickness and disability or lack of adequate means of livelihood for reasons beyond one’s control.”
“Our laws allow all registered voters irrespective of their status or ability to vote at an election except those mentally challenged as certified by a court of law, who may not be able to rationally make an informed decision,” Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said. “In future we could think of even incorporating Braille or other sophisticated technologies to help them.”
Opposition MP Damcho Dorji said “Well I think there has to be some form of postal balloting. ECB should find voting systems for use that allow voters with disabilities to cast their vote privately and independently”.
On similar lines, Interim President of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), Lily Wangchhuk said “Disabled people should be allowed to vote from their place of residence and should be given preference at polling stations. We could also stress or make better use of postal ballots for them”.
Sonam Dawa, 35 who is disabled in the legs said I hope that someone will be able to help me get up the steps at the polling station. “But as an observer I will also be able to make sure that other disabled people like me are assisted. Just because we are disabled doesn’t mean we can’t vote and contribute to the future of our country,” he said.
The CEC highlighted that where there are no such arrangements, the polling teams assist voters with special needs. However, a visually challenged voter can be assisted by an assistant of his/her choice.
The ECB has a mandate which says all Election Officers are bound by a code of conduct forbidding corruption, conflicts of interest, and acts or speech of a political nature. The same code of conduct mandates Officers to assist the ‘physically challenged’, a category that includes the blind, physically handicapped, illiterate, and inhabitants of remote areas.
Talking about international best practices, the CEC elaborated that number of such categories of voters at a given polling place is negligible so it is not cost effective to follow any international norms strictly. ECB has dedicated Guidelines for Implementation of Section 323 of the Election Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan regarding the Physically Challenged and Remote Area Voters, 2009 which is further being reviewed.
Recently Bhutan observed the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December with the theme ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all’.