The European Parliament organised a two-day event on 15 and 16 November 2022, called Kick-off the European elections 2024 strategy and invited 100 pan-European, youth and local organisations representing 10 million citizens.
Overall, the event was meant to present the European Parliament’s campaign strategy for the upcoming 2024 European elections.
Their objectives for the campaign are to promote democracy, promote the importance of voting, engaging more citizens to vote and informing people about the purpose and actions of the EU institutions.
Even though the organisers talked about targeting all European citizens, most speeches and workshops were youth oriented. Partly because some EU countries have decreased the age for voting to 16 years old.
The campaign was being described as “diverse and inclusive”, but it leaves out some people completely.
How to get EU people to vote seems to be the sole issue facing decision-makers and the media. And a lot of people with disabilities can only reply, “Once again, there are technical obstacles in my nation that prevent me from casting my ballot.” Or: “Once more I am not permitted to cast a ballot because of my country’s laws about legal capacity.”
There are an estimated 100 million people with disabilities in the European Union and not all of them have the right to vote. There are estimated 800,000 people with disabilities unable to vote in European elections because of legal capacity laws, and millions because of lack of accessibility.
“There are more than 7 million people with intellectual disabilities and their families in the European Union. Our votes matter. Election campaigns must also target people with intellectual disabilities and their families. To reach us the political groups must talk and listen to us. Both elections and campaigns must be fully accessible.” — Jyrki Pinomaa, President of Inclusion Europe
In which EU countries people with intellectual disabilities can or cannot vote?
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reaffirms the right to vote and to be elected for people with disabilities. However, there are still restrictions in the European Union for people with intellectual disabilities.
Whether a person with intellectual disabilities can or cannot vote is in many countries restricted based on their legal capacity and placement under guardianship. This is a violation of their rights.
The European Parliament recently voted a resolution saying that people with disabilities, regardless of their legal capacity restrictions, should be allowed the right to vote. The EU strategy also mentions the need to improve the accessibility of the right to vote of people with disabilities and to be elected.
There are around 400.000 people from 16 Member States that do not have the right to vote nor to stand for election in the EU based on their disability.
Since 2014, 6 Member States have abolished restrictions on the right to vote for people with intellectual disabilities.
- 12 countries grant full voting rights for people with intellectual disabilities under guardianship
- 10 countries grant limited voting rights for people with intellectual disabilities under guardianship
- 4 countries grant no voting rights for people with intellectual disabilities under guardianship
“In 2014 I took part in the European Elections in Belgium which I was happy about. I wanted to vote in the European Elections in 2016 but I was not allowed because I was told that I was under legal guardianship. I am also a citizen of the US, and I voted in the US elections, and I was happy about that.Voting is very important for all people with intellectual disabilities. It is our right as people with intellectual disabilities to take part in the European elections. All people with intellectual disabilities should have their voices heard and listened to.” – Soufiane El Amrani, easy-to-read and self-advocacy officer at Inclusion Europe.
First of all, this opinion is about human dignity. What we are asking has to do with the principle of equal rights for all. How is it possible that in the 21st century, millions of EU citizens with disabilities cannot enjoy their right to vote and decision-makers do almost nothing to change that? This is a key issue for EU democracy. – Krzysztof Pater
Why is it important for people with disabilities to vote?
The right to vote is important to empower and include people. As for any individual or community, the deprivation of the right to vote leads to a general lack of political participation and increases the non interest in the political world. As the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights mentions, it goes against the most fundamental values of modern democracies of pluralism, diversity and inclusion.
Forbidding people with intellectual disabilities to vote leads to:
- lack of meaningful participation from people with intellectual disabilities
- lack of representation of the disability community in politics
- prevent the election of representatives that advocate for people with intellectual disabilities’ rights, needs and interests
- prevents people with intellectual disabilities from shaping policies and measures affecting their lives
- allow for exclusion, discrimination and long-term stigma
In Ireland I have a legal right to vote. For what happens in my country. I know I am lucky to have this right in the law. Because in a lot of other countries they do not let people with intellectual disabilities vote. Everyone with an intellectual disability should be allowed to make choices about where they are living, just like everyone else in the country. Tamara Byrne, EDF Youth Committee & self-advocate
How to make elections more accessible for people with intellectual disabilities?
The vast majority of polling stations in the EU are not fully or consistently adapted to the needs of persons with various types of disability. For example, in as many as 18 Member States, blind voters have no way of voting independently. In eight Member States, there are no alternative forms of voting, such as postal voting, electronic voting or voting by mobile ballot box.
There are five ways to make elections more accessible:
- Raising awareness at the local level
- Training the polling staff and people with intellectual disabilities
- Support for decision making by assisted voting
- Accessible information with easy-to-read paperwork and ballots
- Access to voting process by casting votes through mobile phones and having adequate transportation
Information should be put in a way everyone can understand. Like easy to read. So it is accessible for all. People with an intellectual disability should be allowed equal rights in the law and have the right to vote in the European Union- Tamara Byrne
Current situation of the rights to vote for people with intellectual disabilities
Under the UNCPRD, which has been ratified by the EU and all Member States, parties must protect the rights of people with disabilities to vote and to stand for elections. State parties must also ensure the accessibility of voting procedures
- Article 29 ‘Participation in political and public life’ UNCRPD
Every citizen of European Union has the right to vote and to stand as candidate in European Parliament elections in their country of origin, under the same conditions as the nationals of that country (European Parliament elections are regulated by national laws, and it is each State’s responsibility to establish its own legal framework of the electoral system).
- Article 22 of the EU Treaty and Article 39 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
However, the current national voting systems across many member states are very restrictive when it comes to those with intellectual disabilities. Usually, people with intellectual disabilities find they are denied their right to vote because of lacking legal capacity.
This is an indirect denial of one’s fundamental rights as a citizen of the European Union and contrary to international law obligations under the UNCPRD.
Things could be changing soon. On 3 May 2022 the Parliament adopted a resolution including a proposal for a new EU Electoral Law which would ensure the right to vote of all EU citizens, regardless of their legal capacity or if they are currently living in closed residential settings. The resolution also calls for EU Member States to improve accessibility of the European Elections.
Future events on voting
EDF’s 5th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities. This event will happen in May 2023. The event will focus on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in political and public life, among other things.
For more information:
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