4 ways to enable people with disabilities to vote

With three months to go before the 2019 European Parliament elections, hundreds of thousands of Europeans deprived of legal capacity are prevented from exercising the right to vote and stand for office. A new FRA paper looks into the problem and suggests what is needed so that people with disabilities can enjoy their right to participate in the electoral process.

“We should not be discriminated against because we are disabled,” says Maribel Cáceres from Spain. “I don’t think it is right that people under guardianship are not allowed to vote. Everyone has the right to vote.”

She is just one of many people Inclusion Europe, an organisation advocating for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, spoke to about how they feel about the high number of people with disabilities that are prevented from taking part in this year’s European Parliament elections.

Typically, it is people with intellectual and psychosocial disability who are deprived of legal capacity - the law’s recognition of the decisions a person makes. Deprived of this recognition, they then face voting restrictions.

FRA’s paper, ‘Who will (not) get to vote in the 2019 European Parliament elections?’, looks at developments in the right to vote of people deprived of legal capacity in EU Member States. It builds on earlier findings from FRA research in 2010 and 2014.

It shows that two-thirds of EU Member States restrict the right to vote for people with disabilities deprived of legal capacity. This undermines their ability to participate in elections on an equal basis with others.

However, the paper also points to slow but steady progress in realising the right to vote for all. Member States are reforming their laws to remove voting restrictions for people with disabilities deprived of legal capacity. But reforms do not always remove all restrictions for all elections and some leave it up to courts to decide.

To realise the right to political participation, FRA’s paper highlights four key components, namely:

  1. lifting legal and administrative barriers to political participation;
  2. increasing awareness of the right to political participation of people with disabilities;
  3. making voting procedures, facilities and election materials more accessible;
  4. expanding opportunities for participation in political life.

EU Member States are already taking measures in each of these areas, the FRA paper shows. But more efforts are needed so that people with disabilities can exercise their basic democratic rights on an equal basis with others. Addressing these issues will have a big effect on the lives of people with disabilities.

“It is not fair to take away the right to vote from people under guardianship,” says Stephan Wolansky from Germany. “This should be changed. For me it is very important to vote.”

Soufiane El Amrani from Belgium, who wishes to have his say in the upcoming elections, says: “At the last elections in Belgium, I was not allowed to vote. I don’t think this is right. Everybody should enjoy the right to vote.”