Levy Ngoma, 29, of Luangeni Constituency in Eastern Province who is totally blind, will be among voters across Zambia who will go to the polls this week in the country’s general election.
However, he and other visually-impaired people have raised concerns about the lack of sensitisation on the use of braille jackets in the voting process.
“I heard about this (braille jacket), but I don’t know… how it feels like because I haven’t had a touch of it,” he said.
Mr Ngoma, who completed his primary school teaching diploma course last year is appealing to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to orient visually impaired people on how to use braille jackets in this year’s election.
He said even though he is literate and is familiar with braille materials, using jackets for the first time will pose a challenge to him and several others.
“We also need to be taught how to use that thing (braille jacket) when we go to vote on that day,” he said.
Samson Njobvu, chairperson of Eastern Tilimbe club of the blind in Chipata told MakanDay Centre for Investigative Journalism that he has been hearing about braille jackets but has never used them before.
“We have been hearing about braille jackets, even in the previous election, it was just a story… even this year, we have heard it is there and the ECZ have prepared but we don’t have the idea of how to use it,” he said.
“If this thing (braille jacket) is not taught in advance, we are going to fail how to deal with it,” he added.
According to ECZ, visually impaired voters who are braille literate will be able to vote with tactile ballot jackets in this year’s election.
A tactile ballot jacket is a folder with braille markings into which a voter places a ballot paper to read the choices available in an election.
The Commission said it is using tactile ballot jackets in elections as a measure to support voters who are visually impaired to exercise their right to a secret ballot.
For Mr Ngoma who became blind at the age of four he is worried that voting through someone has many disadvantages and is prone to manipulation.
“You may find you want to vote for the other party but if the person who is helping you doesn’t want that party, he can trick you that I have done your work, but he has voted for the party of his choice,” he said.
A government-owned broadcaster – the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) reported that printing of braille jackets for ballots to be used by visually impaired voters in this year’s election has been completed in DUBAI, – the United Arab Emirates where all ballot papers were printed. It said the braille jackets will be distributed in all the over 12,150 polling stations across the country.
Keshi Chisambi, executive director of Zambia Library Culture and Skills Centre for the Visually Impaired said: “Last week on Wednesday (04 August), ECZ addressed all visually impaired voters across the country about the braille jackets in this year’s election”.
“We have not appreciated the arrangement of those jackets… we indicated reasons that the jackets should have names of candidates not numbers on them,” said Mr Chisambi who is also visually impaired. “We said we needed to know the name of the person on that number, so they said no, it is too late we can’t do it.”
MakanDay has further established that the way the ECZ wants to use the braille jackets does not offer the visually impaired the right to a secret ballot.
“They (ECZ) defended their position, they said sorry then just make use of your guides, but we said sometimes the guides can mislead… they can direct you to vote for the person of their choice,” said Mr Chisambi.
Last year the government ditched the electoral roll and gave voters just 38 days to sign up afresh. Slightly over 7.2 million voters were captured under the new voters’ register.
MakanDay’s repeated requests to ECZ to establish how many voters under the new electoral roll are visually impaired have not been successful.
A leader of one of the visually impaired groups in Eastern Province confirmed to MakanDay that the ECZ has started meeting them to explain how to use braille jackets few days before voting.
“They needed to start the sensitisation early… to make matters worse, they’re not conducting practical lessons,” said one of the leaders in Chipata.
Story by John#, a visually-impaired journalist based in Chipata. He is part of the network of journalists trained by MakanDay Media Centre under the 2021 Election Reporting Project. Additional reporting by Gabriella Nyambe in Lusaka