Leaving No One Behind: Prioritizing Inclusion in Civic and Voter Education for Persons with Disabilities

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Inclusive Civic and Voter Education (CVE) plays a crucial role in fostering a democratic society that values the participation of all individuals, including those with disabilities. Ensuring the inclusion of people with Disabilities (PwDs) in civic and voter education is not only a matter of equality and social justice but also a means of empowering them to exercise their rights, contribute to public discourse and actively participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Inclusive elections need to ensure that people with disabilities can also engage in the electoral process and make informed choices.

Quick facts

  • Article 77 (b) Liberian Constitution “…every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years of age, shall have the right to be registered as a voter and to vote in public elections and referenda…”
  • Section 3.2 (b) The New Elections Law 2014 Registration officers shall give preference to persons with disabilities at registration centers. The location and arrangement of the registration centers shall, to the extent, which is reasonably and practicably possible, be accessible to persons with disabilities.
  • In 2012, Liberia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) To promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

Liberia has signed international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which guarantees the promotion, and protection of the rights of people with disabilities. Globally, PwDs i face many
barriers to participating in political life. Barriers to political participation can occur at any stage in the electoral cycle and can be broadly categorised into three groups: lack of education and financial resources; stigma and negative social attitudes; and inaccessible physical infrastructure.

The inclusion of persons with disabilities in the voter registration process and other electoral processes cannot be achieved by only the National Electoral Commission (NEC). NEC relies on partner organizations to support the needs of PwDs and the barriers they face in accessing electoral processes. EISA observers have witnessed many community-owned initiatives that inspire an inclusive voter registration process despite the barriers faced by PwDs.

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EISA Long-Term Observers (LTOs) in Lofa County met with two Community-based
Organisations (CBOs) awarded NEC contracts for CVE: (1) the Liberia United Rural Association of the Disabled (LURAD), responsible for Kolahun, District 3 and the Organized Neighbors for Economic Empowerment (ONEE-L), responsible for Zorzor
and Salayea (District 5). The organisations are prioritizing inclusion as part of their

CSOs reported on the physical limitations in extending CVE efforts to hard-to-reach communities which increased costs and limited their reach. Ahead of the expected exhibition of the Provisional voters’ roll ONEE-L and LURAD are carrying out public outreach to communities, explicitly targeting PwDs.

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In Grand Bassa County, the Christian Association of Blinds and the Association of Physically Challenged Persons “Group of 77” expressed their full satisfaction with the priority given by NEC to PwDs during the BVR registration exercise. The Christian Association of Blinds expressed concern that their rights would be compromised on Election Day if sufficient tactile ballot papers were not provided in adequate quantities for all individuals at polling stations. This concern stems from previous election experiences in 2017, where a shortage of tactile ballot papers was encountered. Despite the legal provision allowing them to be assisted by a registered relative on voting day, there is no assurance that their preferred candidate on the ballot paper will be fully respected by the assisting person if their candidate choice differs. It is equally important for the NEC, political parties and media to demystify and clarify concerns raised by CSOs working on protecting the rights of PwDs. Open communication on the extent to which the electoral process respects the rights of PwDs should be cultivated. EISA commends all CSOs that are working in various capacities to ensure that PwDs enjoy the right to be well informed and included in all stages of the electoral process. It is important for these efforts to be fully supported by an honest assessment of progress made with each election in respecting the basic rights and freedoms of PwDs to access polling stationsand to vote in secret.

EISA also recognizes the critical role of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) in providing CVE but also emphasizes the need for the direct involvement of PwDs as advocates and educators at the community level. Internationally, there are growing efforts to support the participation of PwDs in election observation through the inclusion of PwDs as facilitators, mediators, observers, EMB officials and poll watchers. By involving PWDs in the implementation of civic and voter education programs, these initiatives benefit from the experiences of trainers who intimately relate to the challenges of the participants. Additional support can involve providing information in various formats, utilizing sign language interpreters, offering materials in Braille or large print, or utilizing assistive technologies.

EISA reiterates its call for NEC to continuously ensure mechanisms are in place to ensure registration centers, exhibition centers, polling precincts, and polling stations are physically accessible and accommodate the needs of people with physical disabilities.

About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders