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Election Commission's move to introduce postal ballot facilities for disabled people welcomed

On 22 October, the Election Commission of India introduced postal ballot voting facilities for the elderly and people with disabilities. Members from the community welcome this latest government move. But they also point out that existing facilities at polling booths must not be removed nor should the government fail at introducing newer facilities.

In an effort to make the voting process more inclusive in India, the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Union Ministry of Law and Justice have amended the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, on 22 October 22 to facilitate postal ballot facilities for people above the age of 80 and for persons with disabilities. The move has been welcomed given that polling booths still remain highly inaccessible.

Many booths lack even basic facilities like wheelchair ramps or Braille voter slips and as the recent Assembly Elections in Mumbai highlighted, much more needs to be done. Postal ballot facilities is a step in the right direction.

However activists hope that this will not lead to any compromises in making all polling booths accessible.

We had requested postal ballot facility for people who are sick and ailing. So it was not basically for people with disabilities whose only barriers are inaccessibility. As an enabling option for people who are too fragile to risk polling via booth, this latest move is welcome and needed. But disabled people still needs their ground floors to cast votes, ramps, grab-rail and barrier-free booths. - Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Disability Rights Leader

Currently, voting through postal ballots is available to the defence forces and those on poll duty. Following a recommendation from the ECI, the Ministry of Law and Justice amended the rules allowing senior citizens and those with disabilities on the absentee voter list. Absentee ballot refers to a vote cast by someone unable to go to the polling station. The poll officer will attest the absentee voter so that their votes will also be cast without fail.

With the ECI expanding the categories, a better voter turnout is expected for upcoming elections. Speaking to the media, poll officials said his will enable people in the elderly and disabled categories to cast their vote with ease and increase the voter turnout.

"Recently, we had discussed the matter with concerned officials who said that they are unable to do anything because the ECI has to initiate it", said Kerala disability rights activist Unni Maxx, welcoming the move. "So we are glad that this has been done". He too hopes that this will not come in the way of improving facilities at poling booths.

The concerned poll officer will attest the Form 13A that senior citizens and persons with disabilities have to sign like others who vote through postal ballot.

Also Read: Make elections accessible, disability rights groups tells Election Commission of India

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