Every citizen of Israel aged 18 years or older has the right to vote in parliamentary elections, according to Section 5 of the Knesset Basic Law.
Nevertheless, a recent survey has revealed that 37% of Israelis believe that people with intellectual disabilities should be deprived of the right to vote, based on the faulty assumption that they cannot make rational and well-informed decisions. This widespread belief contradicts Israel's Equality Law of 1998 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Israel in 2012, which both state that persons with disabilities must be integrated into all aspects of the political process.
Because so many people are unaware of the laws guaranteeing the right to vote for persons with disabilities, AlManarah has begun to publish and distribute information about this right among the Arab communities in Israel in advance of the Knesset elections slated for March 17. The present article is the first in the series, and it discusses the right to physical accessibility of the polling stations. The next article (in Arabic only) will be an overview of the entire election process in simplified language so that persons with intellectual disabilities can access the information and fulfill their right to vote in three weeks' time.
Accessibility of the Ballot Boxes
Section 68a of the Knesset Election Law stipulates that every population center in Israel must have at least one accessible polling station. There must be two accessible stations in any locality with over 20 polling stations total. The following accommodations must be implemented for a station to qualify as accessible:
Designated parking spots for persons with disabilities, marked by signs showing the international symbol for disability.
Accessibility of movement onto the sidewalk or the path leading to the building.
Accessibility of all paths and hallways.
The entrance to the building must be at least 80 cm wide.
If a Person with a Physical Disability is Registered at an Inaccessible Polling Station
In this case, the person has the right to go instead to the local accessible polling station and vote there, despite not being registered to vote at that site. He or she then votes through a "Double Envelope" mechanism, which works as follows:
The person encloses his or her ballot in a regular envelope like every other voter
This envelope is placed inside of a larger envelope that has the voter's name written upon it.
After all the ballots are collected, the election workers verify that this person's name does not appear on more than one envelope.
The outer envelope is discarded, and the inner envelope with the ballot is combined with the rest of the votes cast at that station. Thus the voter's confidentiality is preserved.
In the case that the voter's disability is not visible and they are not carrying a card or a document certifying that they are disabled, they may turn to the polling station workers and sign a declaration that they are disabled. After signing this declaration, they may take advantage of the accessibility mechanisms to cast their vote.
The Right to an Escort
The Knesset Election Law and the Local Authorities Election Law each ensure the right to enter the voting room with an escort, for any voter who has a disability preventing them from casting a vote in an independent manner.
The escort must fulfill two requirements:
He or she cannot work at any institution, such as a nursing home, where the voter currently resides.
He or she cannot accompany more than two voters in one election.