Proxy vote & right to vote of people with disability

Yunho Bae

While I lived in the Netherlands for 2 years, I could experience various things. Whenever I encounter something new, I tried to understand them on the basis of tradition and culture of the Netherlands. Among them, proxy voting was one of the most difficult things to understand.

Proxy voting is a long established tradition in the Netherlands based on the spirit of trust and pragmatism and it is allowed in case that people can not vote because of disease or disability, etc. according to Electoral Act (Art. L1). This voting system has ensured political participation of people with disability practically. Anyone can not deny it.

On the other hand, apart from the principle of election, just in terms of disability rights, proxy vote can be widely used in such case that someone can't vote because of accessibility. Thanks to proxy vote, Government didn't need to offer various conveniences for people with disability in election with much cost. But, it has weakened the obligation of government that should give voters appropriate accommodation in election and simultaneously it has undermined the justification that people with disability should receive tailor made conveniences for them to exercise their suffrage. As a result, various kinds of accommodations according to types of disability are not enough provided in election. And accommodations that are now provided in election are focused just on people with physical disability. Especially, people with intellectual and mental disability do not receive any assistance in voting booths because government is concerned that the assistant can influence him/her unfairly or unlawfully. So, it is difficult for people with intellectual and mental disability to enjoy their voting rights enough in reality.

I have some sympathy with government's concerns, but I think that proxy vote can distort one's opinion more than allowing an assistant to help people with intellectual disability in booths. And most of all, what is most important is that people with disability don't have a choice between direct and proxy voting in comparison with people without disability. That is to say, if they can not choose but vote by proxy, it is discrimination against people with disability in exercising one's right to vote and it is contradictory to CRPD Art. 29.

In conclusion, in order to exercise one's suffrage fully, it is important that they receive enough assistances during the entire procedure in election. Therefore, not the way of prohibiting people with intellectual disability from receiving any assistance in booths, but preventing an assistant from influencing them unfairly will be considered. Moreover, it is necessary to revise interpretative declaration about UN CRPD (Art.29a) in order to offer appropriate assistance for people with intellectual and mental disability in election.

For reference, in South Korea people with intellectual and developmental disability can vote in election while receiving some assistance from staffs at the polling station in the coming election. I expect that people with intellectual and mental disability in Netherlands also can enjoy their rights to vote fully.

7, March, 2016

Yunho Bae

Visiting Researcher, Disability Studies in the Netherlands
Investigator, National Human Rights Commission in South Korea