After standing hours in line at his polling station during the 2019 Osun State Election in Nigeria, Stephen Oluwa Femi found a problem. Stephen is partially blind, and there were no assistive devices available to support him in voting independently and secretly. His only option was to share his choices with a poll worker and then to trust that person to complete his ballot accurately. As the poll worker pressed Stephen’s inked thumb to the ballot paper, Stephen felt discouraged knowing that there was no way he could confirm whether this person had voted for the candidate of his choice.
Stephen’s story is not unique. While Nigeria’s election management body, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), introduced assistive voting devices in 2018, it continues to face challenges in properly allocating these resources throughout the country. This is directly the result of insufficient funding and scarce data on the number of persons with disabilities assigned to polling units.
But ahead of the Osun 2022 State election, INEC partnered with the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities in Nigeria (JONAPWD) and the National Association of the Blind (NAB) to collect data on the number of persons with disabilities in Osun communities. With technical support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the INEC and its partners mapped out two local government areas with the highest number of persons with disabilities. As a result, Stephen and others with low vision had access to designated polling units for voters with disabilities, with an adequate number of assistive devices and resources.
“I do not doubt that through adopting this approach in the forthcoming 2023 general elections, we would achieve a very inclusive general election,” said Mrs. Dorothy Lakunuya Bello, INEC Acting Director for Gender and Inclusivity, said.
The implementation of the mapping exercise and subsequent distribution strategy successfully redirected assistive resources including braille ballot guides, magnifying glasses, and wheelchairs. This effort was made possible through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Sustaining Electoral Accountability and Transparency (SEAT) Program in Nigeria and implemented by the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS). With their support, IFES assisted INEC in conducting voter education workshops for voters with visual disabilities, teaching participants how to use these resources and discuss how important they are so persons with disabilities can vote independently and secretly.
Through SEAT, IFES is partnering with INEC, organizations representing persons with disabilities and other stakeholders to conduct a polling unit accessibility audit across Nigeria ahead of the 2023 General Election. The data from this assessment will support INEC in its vital work providing assistive devices based on need to polling units across the country.