One out of seven people in the world – about 1.14 billion people – has a disability. Think about that in the context of elections and you’ll realize why remote voting matters.
- According to research by Rutgers University, there are an estimated 47.2 million eligible voters with disabilities in the US.
- Approximately 400 million EU citizens are eligible to vote. Rough estimates say 21% of those voters live with disabilities.
- Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) is home to an estimated 90 million persons with disabilities, or about 15% of the region’s total population. There is no solid accounting for how many of those are eligible to vote.
- Australia has 17.3 million registered voters. About 18% of Australia’s general population (about 4.4 million) have a disability. Extending that percentage to voters, the country could have more than 3 million voters with disabilities.
But voters with disabilities routinely face barriers that disenfranchise them.
- A report from the US Government Accountability Office found that 60% of US polling stations featured an inaccessible area. And 65% used a voting system that could impede disabled Americans from casting a ballot.
- According to Eurostat and the European Commission, as many as 18 EU member states have no way for blind voters to cast a ballot independently. In eight member states, there are no alternative forms of voting.
Outside of the Covid pandemic, which caused massive but temporary increases in remote voting, alternate voting channels normally play valuable role in elections. In Finland, remote voting has been as high as 37% of all votes cast. In Sweden, about 30% of electors typically use remote voting. But remote voting needs more channels available for voters with disabilities since postal voting – the most common form of remote voting – is often not viable for them. Online voting may be the way to do that.
Germany this year successfully debuted online voting for its social elections, a vote to choose the council overseeing national health and pension insurance funds. About 22.3 million had the option to vote online or with traditional postal ballots during a 51-day voting period.
Also this year, Mexico offered TIVI online voting to citizens from the states of Mexico and Coahuila who reside abroad. The system was also available at Mexico’s consulates and embassies in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Montreal for ex-pats in those cities.
In 2022, Norway’s Innlandet County held a referendum using TIVI online voting during a two-week period during which it was the only voting channel.
Not only were these elections free from hacking and glitches, but the election commissions went above and beyond by prioritizing accessibility – not just security and accuracy. They recognized that every voter, regardless of limitations, should have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. This includes considerations such as diverse abilities, geographic barriers, accessible transportation needs, childcare responsibilities and any other constraints that may hinder participation. By taking such a comprehensive approach, these election commissions have demonstrated their commitment to inclusivity and ensuring that no voter is left behind.
Step Toward Inclusion
Fortunately, there is forward progress to report. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently published a report that made 24 recommendations to reduce systemic barriers to voting. The report includes voter registration and the National Mail Voter Registration form, vote-by-mail, using voting technology for in-person voting, polling site selection and setup, and training and documentation for poll workers.
Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and several other countries now have mobile units that visit voters with disabilities in their homes. And some European countries now allow family members to cast a proxy vote on behalf of an eligible relative with a disability.
Australia and the United States are working closely with the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and organizations of persons with disabilities to accelerate regional and national implementation of the ASEAN Enabling Masterplan. The plan would mainstream disability rights into disability-inclusive development practices. This includes elections.
Remote voting is just one set of tools to help make elections more accessible and inclusive. Compliant facilities, better training and better enforcement of existing regulations are also necessary. But online and other types of remote voting are available now and can help voter with disabilities be part of the voting franchise.