It is my humble submission that the Election Access Fund Bill should be swiftly passed into law because it is already overdue. As a democratic nation, democracy should be practiced so that all citizens can have access to equal opportunities. In this case, people with disabilities should access funds which aid them in their campaigns and political activities, just like the individuals without disabilities. Having a leveled platform shows how democratic our nations are. As such, my submission will be centered on three factors. One, the access to funds by the disabled. Two, access to funds by non-governmental organizations and lastly, access to funs by political parties.
Access to funds and participation of disabled individuals during elections.
It is heart-warming to finally have a bill that seeks to address the issue of access to funds by disabled individuals who seek elective positions in parliament. The Election Access Fund Bill, as stated earlier, should be fast-tracked and adopted so that it can become a law in this nation, (Whiddett et al., 2016, 11640). Democracy will have a meaning if we have an all-inclusive parliament that consists of both the able and disabled leaders. It is unfair for a blind, deaf, or any other disabled person to ‘dig’ deep into his or her pocket to facilitate his or her election campaigns, (Kelsey, 2015). It is unrealistic. This bill is a good platform which will eliminate this concern. I concur with the ‘General Policy Statement’ which recognizes the pleas of disabled persons. It is true that they face a lot of challenges when seeking elective positions. In addition, the statement recognizes Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (Gauja, 2016). I am perplexed to realize that our country- New Zealand is a signatory to this Convention yet we did not have a bill/law in place until now. According to Article 29 of the United Nations Convention, disabled people have the right to participate in elections including the public life. As such they are allowed to stand for elective positions, hold office effectively, and also participate in public functions that have been assigned to them in the different government levels. This obligation, therefore, should be incorporated into the laws of New Zealand, the Election Access Fund Bill.
Disabled individuals face a lot of barriers when joining politics or participating in elections. As such, they face a hard time in making critical and informed decisions, stand for elective positions or even lobby and seek assistance from political parties, (Ross & Comrie, 2015, 254). It is even hard for them to have their issues articulated in their political agendas. The existing political forums or disability organizations cannot be accessed at times by these individuals. This barrier causes a lot of despair thus causing discrimination. With many issues being faced by the society, people with disabilities should be given the opportunity to address them. This can only be achieved when they are provided with the necessary support from the electoral commission through funding, (Brady, 2018, 70).
During election campaigns, it is evident that many disabled individuals hire the services of translators or guides and this comes at an extra cost. This means that they have to look for extra funds which will aid their needs, (Cardo, 2018, 10). Access costs are usually not covered by political parties thus a difficulty for these individuals with disabilities. It is everyone’s duty to fight for the rights of the disabled persons so that there is equal access to funds and platforms, especially in the election process. This hence becomes the mandate of the electoral commission in the country. Some of the costs that will be covered by these funds include;
- Transcribing costs
- Interpreter support during forums and elective campaigns
- Translating materials into braille
- Travel costs to attend forums
In support of the bill, the following is a critical analysis of the clauses found in the Election Access Fund Bill.
In setting out the purpose of the bill, it is indicated that there are barriers which people with disabilities face. These barriers should be removed or reduced so that they can participate equally like their abled counterparts, (Reid, 2018, 11). These barriers are not faced by the baled individuals hence competing with them is not fair. For instance, a blind candidate competing with a candidate who is not blind is unfair, until access to facilities and forums is enabled.
In clause 6, the Electoral Commission is given the mandate to establish funds which will be used in the facilitation of activities done by the disabled during the campaign and election periods. By getting a grant, these individuals will be able to participate fully. The importance of this clause is that electoral commission is neutral and not partisan in any form of politics. By being given this task, the issue of corruption and misappropriation of funds will be avoided, (Fraenkel, 2015, 152). In clause 6 (3), the minister is mandated to determine the amount of grant to be awarded to individuals with a disability. It is prudent enough that the minister takes into account all barriers that may be faced by these individuals. It is also my prayer that the minister in charge does not practice biases leading to the equal distribution of grants and resources to the disabled individuals.
Eligibility for funding is set out in clause 7. This clause will empower the electoral commission to set the basis for determining the eligibility of an individual to access funds. Through a notice in the Gazette, the institution will announce the criteria used. A consultation is necessary as stipulated in clause 7 (2) where appropriate individuals and organizations will be approached for consultation purposes before listing individuals who should receive grants, (Stewart, 2016, 69). As such, under clause 7(3), eligibility to access these finds is measured when it is proven that the person is disabled and is seeking an elective position if the receiver of funs is a not-for-profit organization and provides education on the election process and lastly if it is a political party.
Clause 8 is clear on the issue of whether the payment is a donation or not. Here, these payments are not donations hence they should be termed as grants meant for the disabled, political parties or non-governmental organizations handling providing education about election and the electioneering process. Reviews of the entire law after the bill has been passed is essential so that it can be determined whether it functions or not, (Hall, 2016). This will lead to the consideration of its positive and negative impacts. This is stipulated in clause 9 of the Election Access Fund Bill. In case there are changes to be made, this should be done in accordance with amendment procedures set out by the parliament. The House of Representatives should receive and views, intended amendments or recommendations whenever necessary.
It is clear that this bill intends to empower individuals with disabilities so that they can equally participate in the election processes in the country. In the first reading, members expounded on the need for this bill with beneficiaries such as Mojo Mathers who is deaf but has had the opportunity of being politically active and representing the needs for her people and the disabled in New Zealand, (Nikolaeva, 2015). Statistics show that more than 1.1 million people in New Zealand have disabilities and are underrepresented in forums as well as parliament. However, it is notable that a leader such as Mojo has been able to perform beyond her imitations showing the essence of different values and capabilities that people have. These are the exact sentiments used by CHLOE SWARBRICK when addressing the parliament
“People living with disabilities—as indeed all people—have their own values, their own vision of a better society, their own remarkable skills and passions that make them who they are, and it is incumbent on us in this Parliament to ensure that everybody gets a fair shot at participating in our elections, let alone becoming an MP.” Hon. CHLOE SWARBRICK
The importance of this bill will be noticed when equity is realized in the electoral process. Sharing of information up to the voting stage will be done in an equal and democratic manner thus achieving the aims of the bill, (Selvaraj, 2015, 89).
How other parliaments and nations involve the disabled in election processes.
Over the years, the political field across the globe has transformed. This is mainly seen in the fight for gender equality, the inclusion of the youth, separation of powers and most importantly, in this case, the inclusion of disabled persons and access to election funds. According to Mendez (2017), access to election funds in Oregon (United States) by the disabled has been enabled by the electoral commission and political parties. This has enabled people with disabilities to have their own representatives. The importance of this is that their rights and freedoms are freely expressed and also accessed. By implementing the same here in New Zealand, there will be equal representation of all individuals. Mendez further asserts and political parties are enabled by getting enough funds which aid them in the electoral process. In the United Kingdom, members of parliament are at the forefront of fighting for the reinstatement of Access to Elected Office Funds (AEO). This was after the funds were put on hold in 2012. These funds were used by the disabled for transport purposes, interpreters and forum subscriptions. Despite these efforts, it is seemingly evident that people with disabilities are receiving slowed responses. In India, a similar law is being put in place so that inclusivity is achieved in the election process with the disabled also participating, (Dwyer, 2017, 135). From these examples, it is evident that nations are moving ahead to include disabled persons in all national activities. Being disabled is no one’s plan and as such, it should be kept in mind that disability is not inability. This fact was reiterated by
“Whether we identify with it or not, all of us will find ourselves disabled at some point in our lives, whether by our environment or a service that never considered our interaction with it, or as we age and our senses naturally deteriorate, or by way of accident or otherwise. The Election Access Fund Bill is a step towards consciously creating a more equitable, democratic, and empathetic playbook for how we as New Zealanders engage in not just politics but society at large.” CHL?E SWARBRICK
Access to funds by non-governmental organizations when carrying out election education events
Non-governmental organizations also play an important role in educating the people about the election process, the importance of participating in it and how to vote or elect leaders wisely. Groups such as the Civil Society Forum and the Leadership Development Forum will be empowered by the bill so that they can receive sufficient funds to facilitate education about the electoral process. Under Clause 8 (3, b), non-profit organizations can be vetted so that it can be determined whether they offer education about elections so that they can receive grants. In most remote regions of the country, citizens desire to have the best education on the electoral process, the role of elected leaders, the role of the electoral commission and how to participate in the election process, (Ballard, 2016, 1). This knowledge at a time is hard to find thus the necessity of Non-governmental organizations which have seen it necessary to provide this information. With this knowledge, citizens are able to elect leaders and hold them accountable based on the agendas they laid out before them. Precautionary measures should, however, be laid out by the electoral commission when selecting beneficiaries of these funds, (Selvanathan, 2016). Many groups and non-governmental organizations are set up with the aim of getting grants and funds for personal use. This can be avoided if the groups have records of what they do thus the electorates and the government gets value for money. Cases of corruption should also be determined and handled effectively.
Access to funds by political parties.
Political parties in New Zealand are the main platforms where disabled individuals can participate in and get the needed support, (Flew, 2018). Running for elective positions as a disabled person can be tricky because other candidates have an upper hand. However, funds for the disabled leaders which can be accessed by political parties can play a critical role. This aspect is provided for in clause 8 of the bill. Parties such as the Green Party, Labor Party, Maori Party National arty and the United Future party have set precedence by accommodating the disabled parties into their agenda and also giving those opportunities to be leaders, (Mendes, 2017, 145). In most case, it is evident that leaders who have disabilities can perform better compared to their counterparts, with the fact that they are trying to improve their living conditions and prove others wrong, most of them dedicate themselves to the duties that they have been assigned to.
It is evident that this Bill is timely at a time where democracy and equality is part and parcel of our society. Gone are the days when people with disabilities were despised and not given any chance to express themselves. By giving them a platform, their views, knowledge, and values will be shared, (Kunha $ Kern, 2018). First, barriers have to be eliminated for them to serve equally. Here, financial constraints have to be done away with and this is an enabling bill that will cater to that. Secondly, people with disabilities should be embraced by the society so that they can be able to lead others without any iota of discrimination, (Vowles & Catt, 2015). Lastly, opening doors for them to join political parties and forums will benefit them because political parties are widespread across the nation. Financial help is the biggest factor that will benefit them since the processes involved in the election campaigns and political debates are hectic and costly as stated by Hin Maggie Berry of the National Party
“I think that anybody—and we all in this House have stood as candidates. We know it's a grueling, rigorous, and robust process, and I think that people with disabilities need and deserve to have some assistance to get them to where they need to be, to mount a realistic challenge to be considered as a candidate.” Hon Maggie Barry.
On the other hand, non-governmental organizations that provide education about the electoral process have been considered as part of the beneficiaries, (Simon, 2015, 1172). With these, they are able to reach the most remote areas and educate the citizens about the entire election process. With the passing of this bill, the disabled persons will be able to enjoy the benefits of democracy in New Zealand- just like other political leaders and citizens.
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