IEC to empower visually impaired voters

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Johannesburg - For the first time in the history of local government elections, visually impaired voters will have a new way of casting their votes in the 2011 municipal elections. 

"This time, we are going to use huge touch screens, Braille machines for the visually impaired and for those voters with low vision..." the chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Dr Brigalia Bam, told BuaNews.

The new Braille machines will have earphones which can be used to listen to recorded content on the ballot paper.

Bam also announced that for the first time in local government elections, they will also introduce special votes for those who are frail, seriously sick and those who will be travelling abroad before Election Day.

However, registered heavily pregnant women and those who are sick and want to be considered for special votes, should notify their nearest IEC offices in order to be visited at hospitals and at home.

Bam, who spoke to BuaNews shortly after her opening remarks at the IEC one-day summit in Johannesburg, said special votes will be conducted two days before the actual day of the 2011 municipal elections.

"On the first day, we will be visiting those who are sick at hospitals and those who are unable to walk at their respective homes. On the second day, we will open our voting stations for those who are sick, but who can walk and those who will be travelling abroad," she said. 

Bam also urged leaders of political parties to put more women on their candidates' lists of the upcoming elections. 

"South African women are more interested in the voting process and on our voters' roll, the women are the majority. This shows that women voters are committed to deepening our democracy.

The summit was organised with the aim of creating political tolerance, robust competition and campaigns that are conducted in a responsible manner. 

"As most of the delegates at this gathering are coming from several stakeholders, we want them to make a contribution towards creating an environment conducive to free and fair elections.

"At the end of this summit, we want all delegates and politicians to be able to make a commitment to each other ... and to South Africans in general, that we will conduct the upcoming elections without fear of any form of violence," said Bam.

"We are here to inspire each other, so as to create an environment that will make voters feel enthuastic about participating in elections, because we know that our people are eagerly waiting to vote in the municipal elections."

The IEC chair also urged political parties crippled by internal squabbles to urgently resolve their problems before the municipal elections are held.

Inuka Kenya Trust boss, John Githongo, used the opportunity to share his experience of the Kenyan 2007 elections, warning South Africans to avoid ethnically-based clashes.

Githongo, who also applauded South Africa for successfully hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, reminded those in power that corruption causes deep resent amongst the electorate.

"When the youth and ordinary people see those whom they have put in power buying new vehicles and houses all the time, they become very angry," he said. 

Githongo further said both the IEC and the judiciary system should always act independently and with dignity in order to keep their trust from the masses. 

The IEC has granted eligible South African voters another opportunity to register for the upcoming municipal elections. 

Voting stations will be opened at 8am until 5pm countrywide for the final voter registration weekend this coming weekend, 5 and 6 March.- BuaNews