Originally published in VoICE Quarterly Global Magazine Volume III Special Issue № 1&2 (January–June 2019)
According to the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation, about 11 percent of citizens with active suffrage have a disability (total 12.5 million). More than a million of them require special conditions to exercise their electoral rights. Electoral law is one of the key political rights of a modern democratic state, so it is crucial to create accessible and comfortable conditions for everyone to be able to exercise their constitutional right to elect and be elected.
As of today, the electoral legislation of the Russian Federation contains a fairly wide range of legal guarantees to ensure the implementation of the electoral rights of citizens with disabilities. There are also special, largely unique rules that contribute to the full integration of this social group into the political and social life of the country. In total, the Federal law "On basic guarantees of electoral rights and the right to participate in the referendum of citizens of the Russian Federation" contains 11 special provisions that guarantee and ensure the implementation of passive and active electoral rights. For example, the law provides for a norm that allows people with health restrictions to vote outside the voting premises - at home, in the hospital or any other specialized institution. In addition, a voter who is unable to exercise his/her right to vote by him/herself may use the help of another person (friend, relative, volunteer, etc.), when receiving or filling out a ballot paper, as well as during the filling out of electoral documentation.
The system of election commissions of the Russian Federation during the preparation of elections in cooperation with state organs, local self-government bodies, public organizations of persons with disabilities and other civil society associations pay close attention to the issues of ensuring electoral rights of persons with disabilities. In this regard, it is important to note that, in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, in 2018 new composition of precinct election commissions were formed for 5 years. Notably, the precinct commissions include representatives of public organizations of disabled people, employees of social services, citizens with disabilities, sign language interpreters.
Considerable work is being done to collect and systematize information about voters with disabilities, taking into account specifics of their various categories (blind and visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, with impaired functions of the loco-motor system), to clarify information about the place, time and order of voting, as well as the need to have assistance in voting. This collected and systematized information allows targeted provision of special equipment for voting facilities, and use of new assistive technologies for the needs of persons with disabilities.
The system of election commissions aims at the comprehensive development of public and state partnership in the sphere of ensuring implementation of citizens' electoral rights. In this regard, special attention is paid to appropriate equipment of polling stations, taking into account requirements of the Federal legislation which establish the obligation of state authorities, local self-government and election commissions, in relation to their competence to create the most favorable conditions for unhindered access to the polling station for citizens with disabilities, to assist such persons in the implementation of their active electoral right.
In addition, the CEC of Russia, election commissions of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation and a number of territorial election commissions have set up working groups to interact with public organizations of persons with disabilities, which make it possible to "feel" the current problems of voters with disabilities from the inside, jointly find the most convenient ways to resolve them, if necessary, engage in dialogue with state and municipal authorities, and develop proposals for introducing amendments to the electoral legislation.
As a result of joint work significant results were achieved. In particular, 89 per cent of the polling stations are located on the first floors of the buildings and, if possible, are equipped with ramps, lifting devices, tactile signs, and help call buttons. However, currently the accessibility conditions are met only in 61 percent of the facilities. In a number of constituent entities of the Russian Federation, very good results have been achieved to date in terms of accessibility. For example, in the Republic of Kalmykia all polling stations are located on the first floors and fully comply with the conditions of accessibility. Almost all polling stations (more than 95 percent) are located on the first floors in the Republics of Buryatia and Khakassia, as well as Ivanovo, Orel, Rostov, Samara regions and Nenets Autonomous district.
For disabled persons with impaired functions of the loco-motor system, including wheelchair users, in accordance with the standards of technological equipment approved by the CEC of Russia for precinct election commissions, special voting booths for secret ballot are installed at polling stations, the premises are equipped with ramps, railings, floor mats, wide doorways and elevators, wherever possible.
Adapted voting booth
Wireless call button
For visually impaired citizens, optical correction means are used in the voting booths, and additional lighting and tactile pointers are provided. A number of polling stations are equipped with "Accessible elections" voting kits, which include an adapted voting booth and a special table for wheelchair users with a wireless call button, and for the visually impaired voters - an overhead tactile tile for marking access paths, a tactile lens, and a stencil for filling out the ballot.
Tactile tile for marking access paths
Stencil for filling out ballot
Voters with hearing problems were provided with services of sign language interpreters at the polling stations.
Sign language interpretation
In places of compact residence of persons with disabilities (residential homes, apartment houses adjacent to specialized enterprises) specialized polling stations are created.
During the preparation and conduct of the elections, the election commissions pay great attention to awareness-raising among citizens with disabilities. A lot of work has been done on the website of the CEC of Russia to modernize the "Resource for visually impaired users" (http://www.cikrf.ru/eng/). During the preparation for the 2018 election of the President of the Russian Federation special materials on the registered candidates and the new voting procedure were prepared to provide maximum information to citizens with disabilities.
Work in this direction is also actively carried out in the regions of the Russian Federation. To inform citizens with disabilities election commissions of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation produced videos with a running line or sign language translation for broadcasting on television channels. Organizers of the elections also produced additional necessary information and explanatory materials. For example, during regional and municipal elections on 9 September 2018 materials printed in large fonts and Braille fonts were placed at 65 percent of the polling stations. In addition, such materials were placed on the information stands of all polling stations of the Republics of Buryatia and Kalmykia, in the Altai, Transbaikal, Krasnoyarsk Regions, as well as the Arkhangelsk, Voronezh, Kemerovo, Orel, Samara, Yaroslavl Regions.
Cooperation between election commissions and social protection of the population bodies appears to be very effective. Work was carried out together with the social protection bodies to clarify information about voters with disabilities, to provide elections-related information to voters with disabilities, to participate in the transmission of voter applications for voting outside the polling station, as well as at the location, to provide vehicles for transportation of persons with disabilities to polling stations.
The CEC of Russia pays close attention to the implementation of the "Road to the polling station" project. The aim of the project is to identify the problems faced by a disabled person in the process of independently moving from the place of residence to the polling station, and further transfer of this information to the state authorities and local self–government bodies for swift correction. According to the election commissions of the subjects of the Russian Federation, during the period from 2010 to 2018 significant improvements in the availability of premises for voting and routes to the polling stations were made.
The Russian Federation election commission system is also actively working to attract volunteers to assist voters with disabilities. On 1 May 2018, the provisions of the Federal law came into force which allow election commissions to involve volunteers to assist voters with disabilities.
At the regional and municipal elections on 9 September 2018, volunteers worked in almost all regions of the Russian Federation to assist voters with disabilities. About 14000 volunteers worked at 8500 polling stations (about 20 percent of the total number of polling stations). In Moscow more than 4000 volunteers worked at 65 per cent of polling stations, and in the Kemerovo Region, more than 2000 volunteers assisted people with limited mobility at 87 per cent of polling stations.
Volunteers assisting a disabled voter
At the 2018 Presidential elections in the Russian Federation a new procedure for the submission of applications for inclusion in the voter list at the location named "Mobile voter" was implemented. It was used by 5.69 million voters who applied for voting outside their legal place of residence. This is 4.7 times more citizens than in the previous similar elections. The number of voters who cast their ballots at the place of their actual location constituted 6.5% of all citizens who took part in the voting.
These applications were processed in the information system of the CEC of Russia "Vybory", and citizens were included in the lists of voters at the polling stations convenient for them. A citizen could submit an application only in person to the nearest election commission or to the multifunctional center for the provision of state and municipal services. An alternative method of filing an application on the Internet using a Single portal of state and municipal services (functions) (for verified users of the portal) was created.
The new voting procedure "Mobile voter" turned out extremely relevant for the needs of disabled and citizens with restricted mobility as it allowed to choose a convenient polling station, which is best suited for voting, taking into account a particular type of disability.
The complex work carried out by the Russian system of election commissions together with the state and local authorities, public organizations aimed at equipping polling stations, ensuring their accessibility, creating the most comfortable conditions for voting, taken in conjunction with the use of the "Mobile voter" system, creates a situation where older and disabled people express their desire to independently come to the polling stations.
In spite of these achievements in ensuring the electoral rights of citizens with disabilities, a lot remains to be done in this respect, both legislatively and practically. Therefore, we are certainly aiming at the further development of a comprehensive public-state partnership in the sphere of ensuring the implementation of electoral rights of persons with disabilities.