New resources for voters with disabilities
The Samoa Blind Persons Association (S.B.P.A.) is finalising arrangements and resources to help some 300 voters with disabilities to cast their ballots in this April's election.
The S.B.P.A.'s President, Mata'afa Faatino Utumapu, told the Samoa Observer that a key part of these preparations is a candidate handbook containing information from the Office of the Electoral Commission (O.E.C.) which will be translated into braille.
“We work alongside with the O.E.C. and it is one of our long-lasting partnerships," she said.
"There is an amendment in the Act where it allows a support person, a person of our choice, to do several things for us and help us vote."
Mata'afa says the Electoral Act 2019 will enable voters with a disability to enter the polling station with an aid to help them cast their votes. Despite ongoing discussions for ballot papers to be translated into braille, it is unlikely to become available this year.
(Braille is a touch-based reading and writing system used by the visually impaired to communicate).
The President added that voters with disabilities can also participate in a pre-polling process which allows them to cast their ballots before the rest of the country.
“There are several things on the Electoral Act 2019. You can either have a support person or you go in there with the Police,” she said.
“The Candidate Handbook will be [printed in] braille. I think everything for the Candidate Handbook will be done in a matter of two months.”
The Candidate Handbook is written by the S.B.P.A. making use of information provided by the O.E.C.
Mata'afa said up to 300 voters living with disability are expected to be involved in the forthcoming general election.
“At the moment we are estimating 200 to 300 voters with disabilities. Through Nuanua O le Alofa (the national disability advocacy organisation) we continue to train the officials and staff of the O.E.C. who will be working [the elections]…not just for people who are blind but we also consider other groups with disabilities,” she said.
“This year is a significant election year in the history of Samoa.
“We will be having general elections so I encourage people with disabilities who have not been voting to do so and connect with us and explore opportunities to get the help they need so their votes are counted in the election.”
The S.B.P.A. officially resumed its operations for the new year on Wednesday.
“We have started our operations and for sure every year will come with its challenges. We should never focus on the challenges but let the challenges determine our successes,” Mata'afa said.
The Samoa Observer sought comments from the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, through questions sent via email but did not receive a reply.
A braille version of the Electoral Act 2019 was presented to the O.E.C. in June 2019. The Act outlines the conduct of elections in Samoa.
The legislation covers rules governing eligibility for candidates; voter registration and transfer process; political parties; and the requirements for the conduct of the election on polling day.
The 2021 election in Samoa is scheduled to be held on 9 April 2021.