Election Day was a triumphant time for Costa Rica’s blind citizens. For the first time, they were able to cast their vote in private.
The Foundation for the Progress of Blind People created handmade Braille overlays, called plantillas, which provided blind voters the ability to locate candidates on the official ballots and mark their choices.
Just days before the election, it was uncertain whether the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) would allow the plantillas to be used in voting stations (TT, Feb. 3). But in the nick of time, they got a green light to use them to vote unassisted.
On Sunday at 10:17 a.m., Erick Chacón, the foundation’s president, walked into the voting station at the Los Angeles public school in Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José,with one of the plantillas he had stayed up late the night before making by hand.
In the past, blind voters had two options, according to Osliam Castillo, a member of the foundation: a public vote, in which voters state their preferences aloud to poll workers who mark the ballot in the voters’ stead, or an assisted vote, in which voters bring a family member or friend into the booth with them to mark their ballot.
Permission to bring the plantillas into the voting booth followed six months of legal actions, creation of the overlays, perseverance and international support from groups such as the Spanish National Organization for the Blind, Chacón said.
According to the foundation, the TSE informed them on Feb. 2 that it found no reason that blind people should not use the plantillas to vote, however, the TSE would not take the responsibility of supplying blind voters with the plantillas.
This meant that the foundation had 48 hours to make and deliver enough plantillas for the approximately 40 people who requested them.
Alberto Cabezas, the only member of the foundation who is not visually impaired, has been working to support the effort, and sacrificed sleep to make the plantillas.
“I’ve only slept three hours in the past two days. But I’m excited,” he said Feb. 5, as Chacón cast his ballot.
“This gain is symbolic. We have to work toward winning the rights that all Costa Ricans have,” Chacón told the Tico Times, mentioning accessible public transit and education, specifically.
Hectór Fernández, Electoral Program Coordinator, told The Tico Times two weeks ago that the TSE didn’t have the time or infrastructure to print and deliver Braille ballots in time for the election (TT, Jan. 27), but that they intend to have an electronic pilot program (which the blind could use unassisted) in place for the mayoral election in December, and nationwide for the 2010 presidential election.