Citizens With Disabilities Observe Ghana's National Elections
Individuals with visual, hearing and mobility impairments visit more than 300 voting stations in 4 regions
An unprecedented initiative in the developing world, a significant step towards integrating disabled groups in the electoral process
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Seventy-seven Ghanaian citizens with disabilities were trained and recruited as fully credentialed election observers during the nation's Presidential and Parliamentary elections of December 7, 2000. This first-of-its-kind program is a part of a larger project of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to promote the electoral enfranchisement of people with disabilities worldwide. The governments of Sweden and Finland provided funds for this program.
The observers will once again be deployed on December 28, 2000 for the run-off election between the two remaining presidential candidates.
"The purpose of the observation effort is threefold- to demonstrate that people with disabilities are indeed capable of representing their fellow citizens in such a visible and important civic role, to observe the degree to which electoral systems are accessible to people with disabilities, and to gauge the extent to which they participate in electoral events," stated Richard Soudriette, President of IFES. "IFES is honored to facilitate this unique program in Ghana."
In Ghana, staff and members of Action on Disability and Development (ADD) and the Federation of Disability Associations (FODA), an umbrella organization of NGOs advocating disability issues, led the initiative. Among the election observers were members of the Ghana Association of the Blind, the Ghana National Association of the Deaf, the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled, and key members of the ADD and FODA network.
Prior to Election Day, IFES consultant Jerome Mindes led a two-day seminar to train the election observers. Also making presentations at the training were representatives of the Electoral Commission of Ghana, and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), a consortium of local civil society organizations, which also observed the elections. Following the training, each participant was fully accredited as a "domestic election observer" by the Ghanaian Electoral Commission.
On Election Day, the 77 observers visited numerous polling stations in and around the capital Accra, as well as in the northern cities of Tamale, Damongo, Savelugu, Lawra, Wa, Nadowli, Bawku, Navrongo, and Bolgatanga.
On December 15, Thomas Issa of ADD and Nicholas Halm of FODA issued a statement on behalf of the election observers. While the observers stated that the "elections were conducted in a free, fair, and transparent manner," they remarked that the "manner in which some polling stations were set up impeded easy access to the voting process for persons with disabilities." The observers also noted "with disappointment the low turn out of persons with disabilities on election day," commenting that "either many persons with disabilities had not been able to register to vote or they lacked guides to bring them to the polling stations."
Following the December 28 run-off elections, representatives from the ADD & FODA will meet with the Ghanaian Electoral Commission to suggest recommendations on improving access to the disabled in the election process.
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IFES provides technical assistance in the promotion of democracy worldwide and serves as a clearinghouse for information about democratic development and elections. Since its inception in 1987, the Foundation has promoted democratic initiatives in more than 120 countries. For more information, please visit the IFES web site at www.ifes.org.