Cape Town - There were mixed reactions to the Independent Electoral Commission’s handling of the first round of voting – the “special votes” – in the general elections on Monday.
Yesterday and today were set aside for disabled and elderly voters to be assisted by election officials.
The League of Friends of the Blind (Lofob) in Grassy Park slammed visiting IEC officials for being “unprepared” and “clueless” about the rules and protocol that applied to visually impaired voters.
“They arrived without a Braille guide, which is essential for a blind person to cast their ballot autonomously,” said Armand Bam, Lofob’s executive director. He said the officials were uncertain about basic rules, like whether a blind person was allowed to have an assistant to help them cast their vote (they are).
“When the Braille guide eventually arrived, the officials were confused about the fact that the ballot sheet appeared to be too long. It just goes to prove that, 20 years after democracy, disabled people are still not being afforded the rights that able-bodied citizens enjoy,” he said.
After some brainstorming, the IEC and Lofob staff established that a perforated sheet needed to be torn off the ballot paper before it could fit into the Braille guide. This “guide” is the universal ballot template, into which a ballot paper is slid. Blind people can read the Braille, and then mark the box of their party of choice through square holes cut into the template.
Bam also complained that only four of the 16 people who had applied for special voting were on the IEC’s list.
Chrisman Stander, a resident at Jubilee Old Age Home near N1 City, phoned the Cape Argus with a similar complaint – the IEC only had 16 names on its list out of the 70 who had applied. Stander alleged that voting at Jubilee was done with no privacy, on open tables.
In contrast to the Lofob’s disappointment, the Institute for the Blind in Worcester sang the IEC’s praises on Monday. The institute’s Stephné Botha, who oversaw the polling, said that IEC officials were punctual, organised and well-informed. All 120 of the registered blind and visually impaired people cast their votes well before the 5pm cut-off.
Certain polling stations also opened on Monday for registered voters who would be unable to travel to their local stations. Only those who applied for this “special” status - 9 208 in the Western Cape - were allowed to cast their votes early.
The IEC was committed to visiting a further 24 438 voters in their homes, retirement centres and hospital wards.
On Monday, the Cape Argus accompanied IEC voters’ roll officer Malikah Stanfield on a home visit to Henia Bryer, a pensioner living in Vredehoek’s Laramier Village. Stanfield explained the process then stood aside for Bryer to cast her ballot in private.
”Things are in a real mess and we need to rectify it through our votes. These elections are therefore very important to us,” said Bryer. “The service that the IEC is providing… means that everyone has the opportunity to vote. I would not have been able to make it to a voting station because my eyesight is very bad.”
Courtney Sampson, the provincial electoral officer for the IEC in the Western Cape, expressed regret that the complaints about IEC’s management was reported to the Cape Argus and not to the IEC itself. He said he was satisfied that his staff were performing their duties adequately.
Special voting continues on Tuesday.