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Wheelchair-accessible voting is becoming more common

On Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen’s orders, two officials from the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman visited advance polling stations unannounced at eight municipalities in Southern Finland on 31 May and 1 June. The aim of the visits was to examine the accessibility of polling stations, the protection of secrecy of election and the voting arrangements. The visits also focused on the exceptional arrangements at the polling stations due to COVID-19. One of the officials conducting the inspection used a wheelchair.

The general observation was that there was still room for improvement in announcements related to the advance polling stations and their guidance. Based on the observations, the inspected polling stations had acknowledged the current exceptional circumstances well and taken care of the related health safety matters.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman welcomed the fact that advance polling stations are becoming increasingly accessible. The polling stations also have more accessible polling booths or spaces where voters using wheelchairs or other mobility aids can write down their vote while preserving their secrecy of election, as independently as possible.

Further measures  

The Parliamentary Ombudsman decided to bring the observations and development proposals contained in the inspection record that relate to the visibility of signs, accessibility issues and voting arrangements of the polling stations to the attention of the inspected municipalities and their Central Election Boards. Tampere, Akaa, Hämeenlinna, Janakkala, Siuntio, Kirkkonummi, Vantaa and Espoo were the inspection targets.

On its own initiative, the Parliamentary Ombudsman decided to investigate the drive-in in Espoo and the arrangements for voting outdoors from the perspective of protecting secrecy of election. As a result, a separate request for clarification will be sent to the City of Espoo. The Ministry of Justice is also asked for a statement on ensuring the secrecy of election under exceptional voting arrangements.

One of the special tasks assigned to the Parliamentary Ombudsman is the promotion, protection and monitoring of the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities. This task is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified by Finland. Inspections thus seek to draw special attention to accessibility and the possibilities for participation of persons with disabilities.

The inspection record 3250/2021 has been published (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi. 

For more information, please contact Senior Legal Adviser Juha-Pekka Konttinen, tel. +358 9 432 3338.