Iraq’s Electoral Commission Failed People with Disabilities

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A man helps his mother as she casts her ballot during the parliamentary elections in Basra, Iraq on October 10, 2021.
© 2021 Nabil al-Jurani/AP Images

In the weeks leading up to the October 10 parliamentary elections, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) promised to take steps to ensure people with disabilities could vote.

But on election day, videos circulated suggested IHEC’s promises to make polling places accessible, with ballot boxes on the ground floor, went unfulfilled. A week later, we spoke to Haidar Jassim, 40, who has a physical disability. Here is what he said:

I was so optimistic when I heard IHEC would make polling places accessible to people with disabilities.

At 11:30 a.m. on election day, I went to the polling place in my Baghdad neighborhood, in my wheelchair, full of hope that I would be able to vote. I showed my voter ID to two IHEC staff. One looked at me and said, you have to make it to the second floor. I asked if I could vote without going to the second floor. The head of the polling place said they could not move the ballot boxes downstairs, but that I could come back later in the day and he would try to think of a solution. I told them about the IHEC announcement. He said he had no information about it.

Another staff person said, “Let me give you some advice, just go back home. Your vote won’t make a difference anyway.” I was shocked. I explained that I want to exercise and enjoy my rights like anyone else. I can only conclude that he and his colleagues do not consider us to be human beings with the same rights. He then told an older man in a wheelchair to also go home without voting, and left.

I went home and changed my electric wheelchair to a lighter, manual one, and went back to the polling place with my cousin. With help from another IHEC employee, they carried me to the second floor, and I was finally able to vote.

Sadly, I know many people with disabilities who couldn’t vote in Baghdad because the polling places were not accessible. 

The IHEC should explain to Haidar, and everyone it let down on election day, why did it not implement its limited promises around accessibility, and what it is planning to do before the next elections to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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