Voting without boundaries: Assessing Inclusivity for PWDs in Nigeria’s voting process

13th July 2023

An estimated 19–29 million disabled people live in Nigeria, accounting for about 9.5–15% of the population. Over the years, most of them have been unable to independently participate in the country’s open-secret ballot system. With this in mind, SBM looked at the inclusivity of the voting process for individuals with disabilities in Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential election. The study involved surveying 301 Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) who actively participated in the election, seeking their perspectives on the inclusivity of the poll.

The findings indicate that approximately 47.3% of the respondents expressed either high or moderate satisfaction with the electoral commission’s (INEC) efforts to facilitate an inclusive election. This includes 28.38% who found the electoral commission’s conduct satisfactory to some extent and 18.92% who were exceedingly satisfied. A similar percentage of respondents were dissatisfied, while 5.4% remained uncertain. Areas of commendation for INEC’s operations include the implementation of priority voting (79.07%) and providing support by polling officers (65.78%). Almost half of the respondents received these measures, mandated by the 2022 Electoral Act.

However, the survey highlighted shortcomings in INEC’s efforts to provide voter education for individuals with disabilities. Only 29.29% of the respondents reported awareness of any outreach initiatives by INEC, and 38.05% confirmed the absence of accessible voter education initiatives. This resulted in an overall negative feedback rate of 70.71%. Another significant deficiency was observed in distributing assistive aids, such as Braille ballot guides, magnifying glasses, and sign language interpreters at polling units. Only 22.26% of the respondents reported the presence of such aids, leading them to rely on assistance from family members and polling officers, which compromises voting secrecy.

Despite these challenges, the majority of respondents (63.12%) believed their vote was confidential, while 25.91% stated that their vote was not conducted in confidentiality. 10.96% were still determining the secrecy of their ballot. Comparing the findings to previous elections, it is evident that INEC has consistently demonstrated a lack of commitment to providing adequate assistive aids for Persons with Disabilities. The survey suggests that INEC can leverage data from previous off-cycle elections to enhance inclusivity. Quite notably, while INEC has made progress by including disability types in the voter register and training its staff to prioritise voters with disabilities, we recommend that INEC solicits applications from individuals with disabilities who obtained their permanent voter cards before implementing new voter registration standards as it prepares towards the 2027 elections. This proactive approach will ensure proper inclusion and consideration of individuals with disabilities in future election planning stages.

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