On Monday 22nd January, on Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen’s orders, two officials of the Ombudsman Office carried out unannounced inspections at seven advance polling stations set up for the presidential elections. The objectives of the inspections were to monitor the realisation of accessibility and the secrecy of the polls at the advance polling stations. One of the inspectors is a wheelchair user.
Accessibility in a key role
Deficiencies in securing the secrecy of the polls were observed at the advance polling stations in Vihti and Lohja. No separate accessible polling booth was available to voters using a wheelchair or other mobility aids. The Ombudsman has stated in a 2015 decision that, for example, a separate pad placed on the lap of a voter does not secure the secrecy of the polls adequately.
The Ombudsman found it good that the advance polling stations in Sipoo, Järvenpää, Mäntsälä, Hyvinkää and Kauniainen had accessible polling booths.
Other accessibility-related deficiencies were also observed in the inspection. At the city hall in Kauniainen, the threshold of the back door was too high for a person using a wheelchair to be able to enter the building independently. The porch at the entrance door of Vihti main library was small and made it difficult for a person in a wheelchair to enter the building.
Poor visibility of signs
The visibility of signs indicating the location of the polling station was poor in all of the inspected advance polling stations. Often, the only sign had been placed right next to the entrance door. More visible signs could promote the use of electoral and participatory rights.
The Ombudsman decided to investigate on his own initiative the deficiencies in the election arrangements observed in the municipality of Vihti and the city of Lohja regarding securing the secrecy of the polls for persons with disabilities.
The Ombudsman also decided to investigate on his own initiative the procedures regarding advance voting in the municipality of Sipoo. According to the electoral officials, information on assistance provided to voters was not registered to the list maintained on voters although this is required in the instructions issued by the Ministry of Justice.
The Ombudsman also decided to inform the inspected cities and municipalities and their central municipal election boards of the general observations about the signs at the advance polling stations, the visibility of the signs and the deficiencies in accessibility recorded in the inspection report.
One of the special tasks of the Ombudsman is to promote, protect and monitor the realisation of disabled persons’ rights. The task is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Finland ratified in June 2016. Inspections thus seek to draw attention to accessibility and the possibilities for participation of persons with disabilities.
The inspection record 166/2018 has been published (in Finnish) online at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.
Further information is available from Principal Legal Adviser Ulla-Maija Lindström, tel. +358 9 432 3355 or from Senior Legal Adviser Juha-Pekka Konttinen, tel. +358 9 432 3338.