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Right to Free Elections

II. Ensuring the Right to Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities

Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities places all ratifying parties – including Lithuania – under an obligation to guarantee political rights to persons with disabilities and the opportunity to enjoy them equally with others.[1] Said Article goes into further detail, claiming that State Parties must ensure that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to use so that persons with disabilities are able to express their will as electors; also, to enable them to stand for elections and to effectively hold office. 

Only 27% of all polling stations were equipped to accommodate people with disabilities [...] Blind and partially sighted people do not have access to special voting ballots written in Braille, and as such they are unable to vote by themselves.

In 2014, the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency conducted a study to ascertain the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in politics, their impact on the formation of policy and decision making – processes which are exceptionally important in a democratic society. The study revealed that the disabled are active or less active participants in politics in most countries in Western Europe; by contrast, Lithuania does not even collect any data on the political participation of the disabled.[2] 

According to the data received from the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) in 2013, only 27% of all polling stations were equipped to accommodate people with disabilities.[3] CEC is responsible for exercising control over the electoral districts of cities and counties,[4] whereas the municipalities are under a duty to ensure that the facilities are fit for elections,[5] taking into account the special needs of people with reduced mobility and/or poor eyesight as well as the elderly. If the facilities are not adapted for disabled or elderly people, the polling station must be moved to another location. 

Electoral laws provide for alternative ways for citizens to participate and vote in the general elections.[6] They include a possibility to vote by mail using a special ballot;[7] a possibility to vote from home;[8] and a possibility to vote early.[9] 

Unfortunately, these alternatives are not really implemented in practice. For example, in order to vote from home, the person must notify the member of the electoral commission bringing his or her voter certificate of his intention to vote from home. Not all voters are aware of this possibility and members of the electoral commission are under no duty to offer it as an alternative. 

Information regarding the elections is also in short supply with deaf people, only 10-12% of all campaign broadcasts or information on the elections and the candidates are translated into sign language.

People with disabilities face the exact same obstacles when trying to vote early as they do when participating in the general elections – namely, the lack of accessibility. It should be noted that issues with accessibility also prevent the elderly and parents with small children from effectively exercising their electoral right. Making the premises accessible, at least in early voting stations, is one of the best alternatives, ensuring that persons with reduced mobility are excluded as little as possible. The other alternative is to vote online. Amendments and supplements to existing electoral laws were drafted in 2014, proposing to legalize online voting for all levels of elections and referenda.[10] The most recent public opinion poll shows the idea is popular with almost two thirds (65%) of all Lithuanian residents.[11] The draft laws will be put before the legislature in 2015 – unfortunately, the 2015 municipal elections will still be held in premises that have not been adapted to the needs of disabled people. 

In 2013-2014, the exercise of political rights of people with disabilities was further hampered by their inability to access information. Blind and partially sighted people do not have access to special voting ballots written in Braille, and as such they are unable to vote by themselves. Their close friends or family must escort them to the polling station and fill in the ballot for them. Information in electoral districts is presented in exceptionally fine print and hung in places difficult to see (party lists in voting booths use fine print and are hung up high). Blind and partially sighted people are also unable to access the information on the election itself, or on the candidates or political parties taking part – not enough publications on elections are available in Braille. 

Information regarding the elections is also in short supply with deaf people, since they cannot hear the majority of what is relayed through television or the radio. According to the information supplied by CEC in 2013, only 10-12% of all campaign broadcasts or information on the elections and the candidates are translated into sign language.[12] 

Due to the complexity of the language employed, party and individual candidate campaign manifestos are not suited for people with intellectual (developmental) disabilities. The elderly, immigrants and people with poor literacy may also find them difficult to understand. In Scandinavian countries, political parties and political players ensure that their campaign manifestoes are presented in easy-to-understand language. By promoting access to information, it is sought to give all citizens – including the disabled – an equal opportunity to read and understand the information and in this way become involved in public life.   

It should be noted that not even the CEC website is suited the needs of persons with disabilities – the link to the "For people with disabilities" is broken; it was dead during the 2014 Presidential elections and the elections to the European Parliament. 

In its study, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights identified the exclusion of people with a particular disability from participating in the elections in any way – and thus from expressing their will as citizens – as one of the main obstacles to political participation. Article 34 of the Constitution provides that citizens who, on the day of the election, have reached 18 years of age, have the electoral right, except for the citizens who have been recognized incapable.[13] It is still possible to have a person with mental disorders and intellectual disabilities to be declared incapable under Lithuanian law. People that have been recognized as incapable are not allowed to make independent decisions and are deprived of their rights and liberties, including their rights of civic participation. 

A Register of Legally Incapable Persons and Persons with Limited Legal Capacity, responsible for the registration of persons that have been recognized as incapable by a court, has been in operation in Lithuania since 2011. CEC addresses the Register when drawing up voters lists (electoral registers), promptly striking out persons recognized as incapable. At the moment, there are over 6 thousand people in Lithuania that have been found incapable.  

It should be noted that the concluding observations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have many times included a recommendation for the State in question to amend its laws to ensure that all persons with disabilities, regardless of the nature of their disorder, legal status or place of residence, are given the right to vote and participate in public life on par with other citizens. 

Findings and Recommendations                                   

  • People with disabilities still face legal, administrative and even physical obstacles when trying to participate in the elections.
  • CEC must properly exercise its control functions with regard to the accessibility of polling stations designated by the municipality.
  • It is necessary to ensure the availability of election leaflets in Braille in order to allow blind and partially sighted people to vote independently.
  • It is necessary to ensure that pre-election broadcasts are translated into sign language.
  • It is recommended to legalize universal online voting and to more effectively implement alternative voting methods that facilitate the exercise of the right to political participation of persons with disabilities.
  • It is recommended to encourage all political parties and candidates to present their manifestoes using language that is easy to understand.
  • It is imperative to regularly collect data to assess the electoral participation of persons with disabilities.
  • It is necessary to remove legal obstacles and abolish incapacity at law, repealing provisions found in the Constitution and acts of law that prevent people that have been recognized as incapable from participating in elections.

[1] United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol, 13 December 2006, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=335882

[2] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, "Right to Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities" November 2010, http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2010/right-political-participation-persons-mental-health-problems-and-persons

[3] Response No. 2-517 (1.5) of the Central Electoral Commission to the Lithuanian Forum of the Disabled, dated 10 July 2013

[4] Law on the Central Electoral Commission, 3 July 2002, No. 68-2774, Art. 3, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=460793

[5] Law on Elections to the Parliament, 9 July 1992, No. I-2721, Art. 60(3),    http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=389912,

[6] Law on Elections to the European Parliament, 20 November 2003, No. IX-1837, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=389913; Law on Elections to Municipal Councils, 7 July 1994, No. I-532, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=389911; Law on Elections to the Parliament, 9 July 1992, No. I-2721, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=389912; Law on Presidential Elections, 12 June 2008 No. I-28, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=338462; Law on Referendum, 4 June 2002, No. IX-929, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=267136

[7] This voting method is available to individuals that, due to reasons of health or age, reside in health care (except for outpatient care services), social welfare or care institutions and are thus unable to come to the polling station

[8] This voting method is available to the disabled, voters on leave due to sickness, voters aged 70 or above who, due to reasons of health, are unable to go vote in the post office or, on the day of the election, to the electoral district, and only if they had submitted the application required by the Central Electoral Commission to be allowed to vote at home

[9] This voting method is available to voters that are unable to come to the electoral district to vote on the day of the election

[10] Draft Law Amending Articles 28, 29, 33, 34, 35, 58, 59, 62, 64, 66, 69, 70, 82 of and Adding Articles 66(1), 81(1) to Law No. I-2721 on the Elections to the Parliament, 2014, No. XIIP-1839, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=471406; draft Law Amending Articles 32, 55, 59, 61, 63, 77 of and Adding Articles 64(1), 76(1) to Law No. I-532 on Elections to Municipal Councils, 2014, No. XIIP-1838, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=471404; draft Law Amending Articles 28, 33, 34, 35, 58, 62, 64, 66, 69, 70, 83 of and Adding Articles 66(1), 82(1) to Law No. IX-1837on Elections to the European Parliament, 2014, No. XIIP-1837, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=471402; draft Law Amending Articles 26, 31, 32, 33, 52, 54, 56, 58, 59, 72 of and Adding Articles 56(1), 71(1) to Law No. I-28 on Presidential Elections, 2014, No. XIIP-1835, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=471398

[11] “Finally: Rulers Propose to Legalize Online Voting", published in delfi.lt on 22 May 2014, http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/galu-gale-valdantieji-siulo-iteisinti-balsavima-internetu.d?id=64850393

[12] Response No. 2-517 (1.5) of the Central Electoral Commission to the Lithuanian Forum of the Disabled, dated 10 July 2013

[13] The Constitution, 25 October 1992, Articles 22(2) and 22(3), http://www3.lrs.lt/home/Konstitucija/Konstitucija.htm


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