One month after elections, a survey by MakanDay has established that some polling stations did not have braille jackets for blind voters despite assurances from the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) before voting.  The survey carried out in selected parts of Chipata confirms that in stations which had the jackets, the voters did not know how to use them.

After the completion of ballot paper printing in DUBAI, – the United Arab Emirates, ECZ confirmed that all the over 12,150 polling stations across the country will have braille jackets to be used by visually impaired voters in the August 2021 election.

Judith Banda, a blind voter of Chansa Ward in Chipata Constituency in Eastern Province chose not to vote when she was told her polling station did not have braille jackets.

Ms Banda told MakanDay that she decided not to vote with the help of an assistant because she wanted to make her choice in secrecy. “I wanted to exercise my right to vote independently without the use of an assistant,” said Ms Banda in her local dialect.

According to ECZ guidelines, additional support should be in place at polling stations for people who are blind or visually impaired.

“Persons with disabilities or any other person who requires assistance to vote may be assisted by a friend, a relative or Presiding Officer,” say ECZ. “A person offering assistance other than the Presiding Officer must be eighteen (18) years and above and in possession of a Green National Registration Card.”

However, at Peter Mtonga’s polling station this process did not happen as it should have. Mr Mtonga who is also blind is the spouse of Mrs Banda.

“There was confusion among the ECZ staff on how to handle visually impaired electorates,” he said. “My recommended is that ECZ should orient their staff on how to handle visually impaired voters.”

Mr Mtonga’s experience was not unique.

Mr. Mbewe, the chairperson for Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities at Lutembwe farm, Dilika Ward in Chipata said: “Two of our members who live on this farm voted from different polling with the help of assistants because they were not trained on how to use braille jackets.”

Samson Ndhlovu, a voter in Luangeni Constituency ditched the braille jacket despite being trained on how to use it. He said he was not confident with the jacket because the training he attended was without practice.

“During training, ECZ didn’t allow the trainees to have a feel of the braille jacket,” he said.

ECZ said that returning officers have a duty to ensure that a visually impaired elector can vote with assistance using the braille jacket.

MakanDay established that ECZ was short of time and finances to conduct a successful voter education campaign. The commission was only holding meetings with leaders of the visually impaired in some places few days before voting.

Government also ditched the old electoral roll and gave voters just 38 days to sign up afresh. Slightly over 7.2 million voters were captured under the new voters’ register.

Story by John#, a visually-impaired journalist based in Chipata. He is part of the network of journalists trained by MakanDay Media Centre under the 2021 Election Reporting Project.