For Immediate Release:
Constantial Hotel, Benin City – September 30, 2016.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Leave No One Behind: Disability Votes Count campaign press conference on the accessibility audit of polling units and election materials for Persons with Disability (PWDs) conducted during the September 28, 2016 governorship election in Edo state. We are happy you are here and are confident that you will amplify the findings that will be presented here today to help make our electoral process more inclusive.
The philosophy of “one person, one vote” is an indispensable component of participatory democracy. The right to vote provides a unique opportunity for citizens to influence the policies that affect their lives. This right continues to elude PWDs in Nigeria because of the many barriers that make it difficult for us to participate in elections. The inability of PWDs to participate in their country’s political and electoral processes is a breach of local and international laws.
As the name connotes, the goal of the Leave No One Behind: Disability Votes Count campaign is to facilitate the participation of eligible voters among the 25, 500, 000 PWDs in Nigeria by working to remove the accessibility and attitudinal barriers that hinder their participation. The campaign hopes to achieve this by conducting evidence-based advocacy to decision makers including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the National Assembly. The data collected across Edo state on September 28, 2016 will form the basis of this advocacy.
The Leave No One Behind: Disability Votes Count campaign is being implemented by the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) with technical support from the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The campaign is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Kingdom Agency for International Development (UKAID).
Edo State Polling Unit Accessibility Audit Methodology
The Leave No One Behind: Disability Votes Count campaign deployed an advanced observation methodology that employs well-established statistical principles and utilizes sophisticated information technology to observe the September 28, 2016 governorship election in Edo state. Under its sample-based observation methodology, the campaign deployed 31carefully selected, trained and accredited PWD observers to a representative random sample of 252 polling units. Leave No One Behind Observers roved throughout Election Day and observed the election in 252 polling units located in all of the 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 192 wards in Edo state. Each observer had an assistant and a driver.
During the election, leave No One Behind observers recorded systematic observations on: accessibility of the routes leading up to sampled polling units for PWDs, accessibility of polling units for PWDs, participation of PWDs in the election and the accessibility of election materials for PWDs. Leave No One Observers responded to 25 questions on a specialized checklist at each of the 254 sampled polling units visited. In total, they reported 6, 350 pieces of data via coded text messages to a central database system. All of these reports were from the lenses of the PWDs who observed the election.
Accessibility Audit Findings
From the sampled 254 polling units, Leave No One Behind observers successfully sent reports from 252 polling units, representing a 99.2 percent response rate. The findings presented below are representative of Election Day proceedings throughout Edo State and speak to ease of access the polling units, polling unit layout, Election Day procedures and polling materials:
Access to Polling Units
- Findings showed that 80 percent of polling units in Edo state were located in public buildings, while 20 percent were located in public open spaces. 73 percent of polling units in public building were located in schools with 27 percent were in other locations. 76 percent of polling units in public buildings were situated on corridors.
- At 65 percent of polling units, observers reported that the polling unit was situated in a location that was inaccessible for PWDs.
- Ramps and handrails were not available for use by PWDs at 94 percent of polling units observed.
- Observers also cited particular barriers that made polling inaccessible for PWDs. Elevated corridors posed a barrier in 22 percent of polling units observed, gutters served as a barrier in 10 percent of polling units observed and in 43 percent of polling stations observed multiple barriers rendered polling units inaccessible.
Internal Polling Unit Layout
- In 96 percent of polling units observed, observers reported that Election Day instructions/procedures were not explained in sign language to PWDs. Similarly, in 90 percent of polling units, the Election Day instructions and guidelines were not posted for the benefit of the hearing impaired.
- At 64 percent of polling units, observers reported that it was difficult for PWDs to enter the polling unit.
- The polling units was not laid out in such a way that PWDs could easily participate in accreditation and voting. This was reported in 75 percent of polling units observed.
- At 25 percent of polling units, observers reported that corridors made the polling unit difficult for PWDs to enter, stairs rendered it difficult for PWDs to enter 5 percent and observers at 44 percent of polling units reported other barriers that made it difficult for PWDs to enter polling units.
- 96 percent of observers in the sampled polling units reported the absence of ramps and handrails for use by PWDs inside the polling unit.
Election Day Procedures
- Observers in 45 percent of polling units observed reported that PWDs voted during the Edo governorship election. However, in 48 percent of polling units where PWDs were observed voting PWDs could not independently cast their votes because of the placement of the ballot box.
- PWDs received assistance in order to cast their votes, with reports showing that in 27 percent of polling units the assistance came from PWD nominees, in 25 percent of polling units from INEC, in 16 percent from polling agents, and in 14 percent of polling units from security agents
Polling Unit Materials
- Reports from 62 percent and 63 percent of polling units respectively showed that the space (width) of the voting cubicle and the height of the ballot box were not suitable for persons with disabilities, especially those on wheelchairs.
- Contrary to INEC’s commitment to record PWD data, observers in 45 percent of polling units reported that Form EC40H was not used to record the data of PWDs that voted at the polling units.
- At 96 percent of polling units, observers reported that ballots for the visually impaired were not provided at the polling unit.
The Leave No One Behind: Disability Votes Count campaign makes the following recommendations to the under listed stakeholders to facilitate needed accessibility reforms that will guarantee more inclusive elections and the participation of PWDs in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes:
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)
- INEC should carefully choose the location of polling units to ensure that they are accessible for PWDs.
- INEC should locate polling units on flat surfaces as opposed to corridors, especially where ramps and handrails are yet to be provided.
- INEC needs to carefully work on the layout of polling units to ensure that PWDs are able to freely move around to participate in accreditation and voting.
- INEC should standardize its collection of PWD data in pre-election and Election Day processes to enable them plan for the participation of voters with different forms of disabilities.
- INEC must ensure that voting cubicles are wide enough and not too high to enable PWDs cast their ballots in secret, in line with Nigeria’s secret ballot system.
- INEC should ensure that ballot boxes are not placed on high tables to enable PWDs independently cast their ballots on Election Day.
- INEC must budget for and provide written instructions to explain Election Day procedures to hearing impaired voters in the short term and provide sign language interpretation in the long term.
- INEC should provide Braille ballots or assistive Tactile to enable visually impaired voters to independently participate in voting in upcoming elections.
The Executive at the Federal, State and National Assembly.
- The federal, state and local governments must work with school administrators, INEC and Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) to provide PWD friendly walkways, ramps and handrails in public structures where polling units are located.
- The executive at all levels must strengthen existing building codes and enforce them to guarantee accessibility for PWDs during and after elections.
The National and State Assemblies
The National Assembly should urgently strengthen section 56 (2) of the 2010 Electoral Act by making the provision of Braille and sign language interpreters mandatory as opposed to leaving it to the desecration of INEC as the case is today.
Beginning with the 2017 Appropriation Act, the National Assembly should regularly provide funds in the national budget for Braille ballots, accessible voting cubicles, written instructions and sign language interpreters to enable PWDs to participate effectively in pre-election and Election Day processes.
PWDs actively seek to partake in Nigeria’s elections – as evidenced by the presence of PWD voters witnessed in 45 percent of the sampled polling units observed in Edo State. Nevertheless, significant accessibility challenges exist. These barriers both serve as a deterrent to further PWD participation and increase the likelihood that – for those PWD voters who are able to arrive at the polls – inaccessible materials and procedures will undermine their ability to exercise their democratic rights by participating freely and fully in each step of the voting process.
During our pre-election press conference on September 26, 2016 INEC National Commissioner, Amina Zakari, conveyed the Commission’s readiness to work with us to achieve our goals. Earlier in September, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Edo state, Sam Olumekun, assured us that he had forwarded our advocacy letter to INEC headquarters and the INEC Chairman was working to address the issues raised. The Leave No One Behind: Disability Votes Count campaign applauds this gestures of goodwill and stands ready to work with INEC, the National Assembly and other stakeholders for the actualization of the above recommendations.
Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).
Inclusive Friends Association (IFA).
 Of the two polling units from which observers did not send reports, one polling unit did not open and one polling unit was only accessible by boat.