The Himalayan Times, 4 Dec 2017
SURKHET: Bhima Acharya, a visually impaired from Surkhet, had voted in the local level elections six months back but did not feel so confident her votes met the intended purpose.
She had taken her niece along with her to the voting booth to assist her in the voting. “I don’t know which way my niece gave my vote,” she said expressing her doubt that her niece voted for the candidate that she wanted to vote for.
Another voter with visual impairment from Birendranagar, Menaka Acharya is also worried about the confidentiality of her vote in the election.
“The confidentiality of our votes would be protected had there been provision for voting electronically for visually impaired people like us. However, the state is utterly ignorant of this fact and has done nothing to ensure the secrecy of our votes,” she shared.
Samjhana Baduwal of Birendranagar shares the same anxiety expressed by Bhima and Menaka.
She is worried that the assistants who are allowed to accompany the visually impaired voters to the polling booth and vote on their behalf as per their wish vote for the candidates they wish to vote for.
“I want to vote for the candidate who has voiced our concerns and issues in the election campaign. But other members of my family have a different preference,” she complained adding “So, this means I cannot be assured of the confidentiality of my vote when one of the family members will go together to the polling booth to assist me in the voting. My assistant might give my vote to another candidate who is not my choice but his or her choice.”
Sumona Khadka of Surkhet feels the same way. “Usually, the parties and election candidates try to influence the person after knowing that that person is going to assist the blind voter in the election,” she said, adding that so their votes might go to waste or go to another candidate who is not their first choice.
Khadka is also not confident that the election officer will likewise give vote to the candidate of their choice. “Since the election officer too might be the supporter of one or the other party, we are not sure even the election officer ensures the confidentiality of our votes,” she said.
Agrees another visually impaired voter, Basanta Jaisi, “Although it is called secret voting, we feel very awkward for to which candidate our votes went is disclosed after a while following the conclusions of the election.”
He said that one of the election candidates tried to buy his vote from his brother after learning that his brother was assisting him in the voting during the local election.
Expressing concern that the person who is assigned to assist them in the voting might vote for the candidate or the party of his/her choice since that person has to give multiple votes in the name of assisting the visually impaired voters, Jaisi commented. “The Election Commission imparts information on the right way of voting to the normal people during the voter education programme but not to the visually-impaired people like us. This is one reason why our votes are misused.”
All the visually impaired voters unequivocally said that there should be legal provision for punishing those voters’ assistants if found misusing the their votes. They said the Rs 15 thousand fine that is there in the election laws for breaking the confidentiality of their votes is too inadequate.
Election officer Sunita Thapa said although their concern were genuine, it was immediately not possible to address their concerns. “It all depends on the morality of the person assisting the visually impaired oters in maintaining the confidentiality of their votes for now,” she said.