Democratic process of voting an “affirmation” of rights

Participating in an election is a form of “affirmation” for some transgender people and an opportunity to participate in the democratic process as their authentic self.

This is according to transgender rights activist, Gita November, who has undergone the transition from her birth identity of male to now, a female.

This identity is one she says she will proudly take with her to the polling stations on 1 November, the day of the Local Government Elections.

“[Voting] affirms me in a space where I have been oppressed as a woman and also it speaks to me having the ability to walk in freely into that space and say I am here to cast my vote for a better life,” November told SAnews.

However, November highlighted that although South Africa has made strides in recognising issues of gender and their implications, transgender people still face serious challenges with being officially recognised as their true authentic selves.

In South Africa, Electoral regulations require a registered voter who goes to the polls to produce an Identity Document in order to cast a valid and legal vote.

Although this is a necessary step to protect the integrity of the voting process, November said it may pose a challenge for some transgender people whose appearance may not necessarily correspond with the gender marker – typically an M for male or an F for female – on their ID.

That law, however, still allows for a prospective voter to change their official registered names after they have done so through the Home Affairs Department – which some transgender persons prefer to do.

November emphasised that despite these challenges, she still has the backing of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, which guarantees that no person can be prevented from voting in “elections for any legislative body” and the IEC’s own rules prevent the discrimination of people based on their appearance.

“The challenge that we have is that the [Home Affairs] department takes [identity changes] very seriously and as a result, it takes long to change the [gender] marker… It takes up to 18 months and in this case, it has a direct impact on our ability to vote.

“But even if Home Affairs did not grant us the option to change our gender markers, I can still walk into the voting station…put down my ID and say that it’s not my fault that my ID hasn’t been amended. We need to get people to recognise someone’s gender, regardless of what they were born with or assigned at birth,” she said.

She said that sometimes, South Africans who do not fall under the LGBTQI+ umbrella “take voting for granted” because their identities “would never be questioned”.

November said this forms part of the reason she is determined to cast her vote.

“Sometimes [cis-gender] South Africans take voting for granted, whereas a lot of transgender individuals in South Africa are being deprived of [the chance to vote]. That’s why when I vote, I will be voting with my conscience to make sure that my family, which is the transgender community, will have a voice,” she said.

Voting for people with a disability

In its mission to include all eligible South Africans in the voting process, the IEC developed the Universal Ballot Template (UBT) aid.

According to the commission’s elections material, the template is designed to assist people who:

Are blind or partially-sighted;

Low-vision users;

People who are dyslexic;

The elderly;

People with low literacy and

People with motor and nervous conditions that do not allow for a steady hand.

“The UBT is a voting aid made of hard, black plastic into which a ballot paper is inserted. The template is not a Braille ballot paper. The right front of the template has a flap which has cut-out windows numbered in Braille and in large, raised white print.

“When the ballot paper is inserted into the template, each window aligns to a particular candidate or party and the voter is free to make his or her secret and independent mark accurately,” the IEC said.

The commission allows for voters who require assistance to be helped by a companion who is not a party agent, candidate or elections observer.

If none such companion is available, a voting official or the voting station’s presiding officer may provide help.

“This should be done in the presence of two party agents from different parties and one accredited observer, if available. Where such witnesses are not available, assistance can be rendered in their absence.

“No witnesses (party agents, candidates or observers) are necessary when a companion assists a voter,” the IEC said.

Source: South African Government News Agency