and Election Administrators Meet to Discuss Improving the Accessibility
of Elections for Disabled Citizens
The Public Relations Office of IFES/Armenia told ARMINFO that the main objective of the round table was, together with election officials, NGOs and international organizations, to discuss and further develop recommendations of six disability NGOs (Lusastgh, Nor Spitak, Full Life, Pyunik, Prkutiun and Paros) to be included in the Electoral Code and other legal procedures for improved access of disabled voters to electoral processes. Recommendations elaborated by those NGOs were previously presented to the National Assembly Speaker's Council on Disabled Issues on June 25, 2004. Prior to 2003 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, IFES assisted the aforementioned disability NGOs to conduct polling day observations by and for disabled voters in Vanadzor, Spitak, Stepanavan, Yerevan and Gyumri. "To assess the activism of disability turnout and their accessibility to polling stations, Lusastgh NGO's 34 disabled observers conducted observation missions in 49 polling stations during 2003 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The observation results showed that only 5 polling stations in Spitak, Vanadzor and Stepanavan were accessible to disabled voters", - commented President of Lusastgh NGO Nune Pepanyan. Other major findings of these observations included: absence of wheelchair access, premises inaccessible for disabled inside the polling stations and voting booths, and inconsistent application of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) procedures for mentally disabled voters. IFES 2003 technical observation recorded that per CEC parameters 13% of precincts observed and 38% of voting booths observed were accessible for disabled voters. Similar results were found by the OSCE observers as well.
During the discussion officials recognized their role to ensure improvement of disabled voters' access to polling stations and voting booths, and came to an agreement to address the needs of disabled voters in the legislative changes. IFES-Armenia prepared comments to the recommendations and potential impediments or difficulties to realize the NGOs' recommended changes.
"According to the National Statistics Service, there are over one hundred thousand Armenian citizens of voting age and having disabilities. Armenia's current electoral code guarantees equal electoral rights of all citizens who have the right to vote - including citizens with disabilities. Current procedures to realize equal electoral rights of voters with disabilities address only a couple of key accessibility issues primarily for voters with mobility challenges. The realization of principles of universal suffrage embodied in Armenia's electoral code as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights means that much work still needs to be done to provide Armenian voters with a range of disabilities more equal access for full participation in the country's electoral process. Therefore, IFES is pleased to host today's discussion and is ready to continue collaboration with officials and civil society to improve further the country's electoral legislative framework," - said IFES-Armenia Project Director Albert Decie. "In IFES we found a good partner. We appreciate IFES helping us with today's discussions and refinements to our electoral code recommendations", - added President of Paros NGO Suren Ohanyan.
Since 1996, IFES-Armenia has provided nonpartisan, locally defined, technical assistance and information to the Armenian population and institutions for the development of civil society and democracy. Worldwide, IFES provides professional advice and technical assistance in the promotion of democracy and serves as a resource for information on governance, rule of law, civil society, and elections. For more information about IFES in Armenia, visit www.ifes.am.