People with disabilities facing multiple hurdles to vote in EU elections

A damning new report paints a “bleak picture” for people with disabilities who want to vote in the upcoming European elections.
Photo Credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Apr 2019

The report, by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), outlines the multiple difficulties facing “millions” of voters with disabilities.

The report point out that in nine EU countries, voters with disabilities automatically lose their right to vote when their “legal capacity is reduced” or when they have a guardian appointed.

The procedures relating to revoking of voting rights vary “substantially” between Member States.


While in some they are aimed only at patients with a severe medical condition who are unable to make any contact with other people, in other Member States thousands of people must go through a complicated process.

This, says the EESC, sometimes even includes a general knowledge test with questions about physics or history such as "What is the speed of light?" or "Who was Catherine the Great?"

The figures, it adds, vary too - only around 100 people are unable to exercise their right to vote in Portugal, whereas in Germany and Poland their number rises to 82,000 and 90,000 people respectively.

The report, entitled "Real rights of persons with disabilities to vote in European elections", says that despite many binding legal documents protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU, “millions of them will not be able or allowed to cast their votes this spring, or may at least have difficulties to do so.”

"This report presents an ugly face of Europe - the reality which is far away from our expectations, from basic international legal acts and political declarations" Krzysztof Pater, EESC

Its author, Polish EESC member Krzysztof Pater, told this website, "This report presents an ugly face of Europe – the reality which is far away from our expectations, from basic international legal acts and political declarations."

Referring to Parliament's election campaign and its slogan "This Time I'm Voting", Pater said, "It seems that for decision-makers and the media, the only problem is how to motivate EU citizens to vote.”

“And many citizens with disabilities can only say - once again I am not able to vote due to technical barriers still existing in my country. Or once again I am not allowed to vote under the national law of my country."

According to the report, millions of voters will be deterred by technical barriers at polling stations which do not take into account the needs resulting from their various types of disability.


Moreover, it is estimated that some 800,000 EU citizens suffering from mental health problems or with an intellectual disability will be deprived of their right to vote on account of national rules that are in force in 16 Member States, which the EESC says it finds “particularly worrisome.”

The issue of adapting polling stations is dealt with “very differently” by Member States, states the study.

Six countries have no rules on making polling stations accessible to persons with disabilities. And whereas eleven apply the principle that all polling stations must be adapted, this accessibility is “understood rather narrowly in practice.”

Pater said, "Public authorities often define a polling station as 'accessible' only if a wheelchair user can enter it, overlooking the needs of persons with many other types of disability.”

“The vast majority of polling stations in the EU are not fully adapted to the needs of persons with different types of disability.”

In as many as 18 Member States, blind voters have no way of voting independently, while in eight countries there are no alternative forms of voting, such as postal voting, electronic voting or voting by mobile ballot box.

“This means that anyone physically unable to come to the polling station will not be able to cast their ballots,” the report says.

“In twelve countries, national rules do not allow voters to change polling stations to a more suitable one if the latter is not assigned to them based on their place of residence,” it adds.


But despite painting a “bleak picture” the EESC says the report “does give reason for hope” and lists 200 examples of “good practices and positive solutions” that can be found in each Member State.

For example, Romania allows voters to make a mark next to a candidate's name using a stamp obtained from the electoral commission.

In Lithuania, authorities provide an online map identifying polling stations best suited to voters with reduced mobility.

All citizens in Estonia can vote electronically and voters in Denmark have the option to vote early - from two days to three weeks in advance - at designated polling stations.

Pater said the purpose of the report was not to criticise any of the EU countries and hoped that, with its positive examples, “it would help decision-makers at both the EU and national level to draw up comprehensive solutions to remove legal and technical barriers preventing this significant group of EU citizens from exercising their fundamental rights.”

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