ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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BILL 231 FINISHES STANDING COMMITTEE CLAUSE-BY-CLAUSE DEBATES AND RETURNS TO LEGISLATURE FOR THIRD READING DEBATES – READ MORE MEDIA COVERAGE OF OUR CAMPAIGN FOR ACCESSIBLE ELECTIONS

April 26, 2010

SUMMARY

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, the Legislature’s Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly completed its clause-by-clause review of Bill 231. Bill 231 is the McGuinty Government’s proposed legislation to modernize Ontario elections, including addressing recurring barriers that impede voters with disabilities. You can read the transcript of the April 21, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly.

We will later provide a summary of the changes to Bill 231 that the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly made.

A delegation of voters with disabilities was again present at Queen’s Park to watch this meeting, and speak with MPPs during informal breaks in the proceedings. (See our news release issued on April 22, 2010, set out below.) We continued our advocacy efforts right up to the start of the April 21, 2010 Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly meeting, and even informally during that meeting, with some success.

We set out below the text of one TV new item and two radio items that ran on our campaign for fully accessible elections for voters and candidates with disabilities. You can download and listen to these news items as audio MP3 files at the link next to each item. These are:

All the changes that the Standing Committee made to Bill 231 are now incorporated into a new version of the bill. If you would like to read the revised version of Bill 231 that the Standing Committee is now sending back to the Legislature, you can download it in MS Word format by clicking here:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/0410-revised-bill-231.doc

Bill 231 now returns to the floor of the Legislature for Third Reading debates. After these debates on the floor of the Legislature, the Legislature will vote for the third time (Third Reading) on Bill 231. When it passes Third Reading, Bill 231 will then go to the Lieutenant Governor for a formal signing called “Royal Assent,” the final stage in its being passed.

We have been advised that there will be two sessions of Third Reading debates on the bill this week. These will be on:

a) Tuesday, April 27, 2010 from 9 am to about 10:20 am.

b) Thursday, April 29, 2010 from roughly 4 pm to 6 pm.

We do not know when the next dates after these for Third Reading debates will be, nor do we know when the Government plans to bring the bill forward for the final Third Reading vote. We have asked the Government for advance notice of these.

You can attend these debates at the Legislature at Queen’s Park, or you can watch them on the cable TV Ontario Legislature channel. They usually air live, and then are re-run later the same day. We will make the transcripts of these debates available afterwards.


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
MEDIA ADVISORY FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT PROPOSES LAST-MINUTE AMENDMENTS TO ELECTIONS BILL TO SOFTEN CONTROVERSIAL PROPOSED BAN ON TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING – BUT DO THEY GO FAR ENOUGH?

April 21, 2010 Toronto: Today at Queen’s Park from noon to 3 pm, in Room 151, the Legislature’s Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly will decide whether to allow voting by phone or over the internet in future Ontario elections. Leading voices from Ontario’s disability community have opposed the McGuinty Government’s proposed permanent ban on technologies such as phone and internet voting. These technologies, used elsewhere, offer an accessible, convenient, cost-effective and easy-to-use means for many voters with disabilities to independently and privately vote. They also appeal to voters with no disability.

Late yesterday, responding to a tenacious campaign on behalf of over one million Ontario voters with disabilities garnering increasing media coverage, the McGuinty Government tabled new amendments to Bill 231, its proposed elections reform legislation. These soften the Government’s earlier proposed ban on network-connected voting technology like phone or internet voting. Stronger Conservative and NDP amendments tabled last week, proposed at the request of voters with disabilities, would eliminate the Government’s ban on these options.

“It’s good the Government is trying to soften its unjustifiable ban on network-connected voting technology. They’d require Elections Ontario to study it, and let a Standing Committee permit its use starting in 2012, if Elections Ontario recommends it, after testing it in a by-election,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance that spearheaded a multi-year campaign to make elections accessible to Ontario voters with disabilities. “However, the Government amendments have too many loopholes. They don’t require Elections Ontario to report on this technology for fully three years. If we can securely bank by phone right now, it won’t take three years to figure out if we can securely vote by phone.”

“The Government wants to give Elections Ontario an absolute veto over whether this technology is used, even if it’s proven workable and cost effective,” said Lepofsky. “Government amendments also demand too high a level of security for phone/internet voting, even though its bill lets all voters vote by mail, with only Canada Post’s security.”

We are advocating down to the wire. We will be available for comment at the Standing Committee meeting in Room 151 from noon to 3 pm,, and immediately afterwards on the Legislature Building’s third floor in front of the Press Gallery offices.

Contact: David Lepofsky aodafeedback@gmail.com
Extensive background to this issue available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org

TEXT OF APRIL 13, 2010 INTERVIEW ON CFRB RADIO 1010 TORONTO

Introduction: ... Keeping you informed and entertained, this is the Live Drive with John Tory on Newstalk ten ten.

John Tory: David Lepofsky is a lawyer he happens to be blind he is also I believe Ontario's foremost and most persistent and consistent advocate on behalf of those with disabilities and he is now talking about their access to elections. Good afternoon David.

David Lepofsky: Good afternoon John.

John Tory: The government has moved to bring in legislation to supposedly improve the lot of disabled people when it comes to exercising their democratic rights, but you think they've not done a very good job.

David Lepofsky: They promised us accessible elections but the legislation they've brought forward will not ensure election accessible elections for over a million voters with disabilities now or ever. It's weak it's toothless they just released a package of amendments to be voted on tomorrow as did both other parties. The liberal package of amendments is the most paltry, the weakest, and the least effective.

John Tory: Now you talk about the fact that people like yourself for years, have been able to use that even now is old-fashioned technology, but better than a paper ballot someone else has to mark for you in the case of a person who's visually impaired namely the telephone and then you can do your banking confidently securely safely and in private and and I presume you're saying why couldn't we do the same thing for some of these groups of people for voting?

David Lepofsky: Yeah, voting by automated phone voting system would be could be safe secure very convenient it wouldn't require you to go to the polling station I think a lot of your listeners who don't have a disability would like it too. It'd be great for people like me who are blind and can't mark our own ballot in private and verify our choice. It would be great for people who are, don't want to go out in the winter and have to slog through the snow or don't want to slip and fall on the way to the polling station and so on? So it would benefit everybody but this legislation doesn't only not only doesn't it allow for it or require it. It actually forbids it.

John Tory: I gather they sort of forbid anything that's connected to a network...

David Lepofsky: Yeah...

John Tory: ... and so therefore it rules out for the foreseeable future cause they don't legislate these things very often internet voting or telephone voting and says well the best we'll do is as you say have a few conferences and do some research.

David Lepofsky: We had our first press conference on this issue fourteen years pardon me eleven years ago tomorrow on April fourteenth nineteen ninety-nine calling for accessible elections. The first time we've been able to get votes on on a Bill to deal with this is eleven years later and tomorrow the eleventh anniversary of our first raising this issue. The liberals have offered some improvements in their amendments. But the conservative and n.d.p. amendments go much further and are much better. The real question we'll be watching for tomorrow -- and we'll be there -- is whether the government if they won't propose strong amendments whether they're going to vote down strong amendments.

John Tory: And just to be clear on somebody how ya like yourself who is blind. You have to vote by going with someone else to the polling station and telling them how to vote and they fill out the ballot and you don't really know you can't see whether they've done what you want or not.

David Lepofsky: Well or if they've spoiled the ballot by accident. I also by the way I have to swear an oath in front of the election official that I can't seem can't mark my ballot which is ridiculous. The other option they give you is a template? With a piece of cardboard that folds with like holes where each of the where each of the marked spots could be to mark the ballot but if the ballot slips while it's in that template you could accidentally spoil your ballot and never know it, which is why I won't use it.

John Tory: And I gather beyond people with visual impairment there is the problem that we saw as recently as a by-election just weeks ago where they had a polling station in a place with a staircase and someone on a wheelchair had to be taken out of their wheelchair to go down there.

David Lepofsky: In fact the Standing Committee received evidence photographic evidence that there were more polls in that downtown Toronto riding that had accessibility barriers and we've gotten from Elections Ontario their own records, that show that they've had problems with inaccessible polling stations, and in a number of ridings. When a voter gets a card from Elections Ontario with a symbol on it saying that their polling station will be accessible they they never know till they get there whether they'll really be able to get in, and that's that's not good enough to maintain a real democracy. This disenfranchises potentially voters with disabilities and there's over a million of us. And as our population ages, more and more people will need this. Accessibility actually benefits everybody, at the polls and throughout society.

John Tory: Final point, I guess that people could call tomorrow morning when the office is open again and encourage their MPPs to look for stronger legislation and to vote for some of the stronger amendments.

David Lepofsky: And if people want to know more about this go to the website I'll give you the name it's a.o.d.a. alliance dot o.r.g. they can see the whole history of this, and what we're trying to do to change it.

John Tory: All right we'll put that website address up as well on newstalk ten ten dot com so they can go to that. David Lepofsky Chair of the accessibility for Ontarians with disability act alliance thank you for joining us.

David Lepofsky: Great talking to you.


TEXT OF AUDIO TRACK FOR APRIL 11, 2010 TV NEWS REPORT ON CTV TORONTO EVENING NEWS

Tom Hayes: ... people with disabilities in Ontario have been complaining for years about the many difficulties they face when they go to vote.

Janice Golding: The Ontario government is trying to address their concerns with bill 231. The government says this bill will improve the voting process for all electors. But disability advocates say the bill doesn't go far enough. CTV's Karlene Nation reports.

David Lepofsky: ... they face the indignity of possibly having to be carried down steps just to be able to vote ...

Karlene Nation: Ontario politicians got an earful from disability advocate David Lepofsky as he ripped into bill 231 which is designed to amend the election act. The McGuinty government introduced bill 231 last December to improve voting rights for all electors.

David Lepofsky: Unfortunately it's toothless it will not ensure fully accessible elections for voters with disabilities who number well over a million Ontarians.

Karlene Nation: A formidable advocate for people with disabilities, Lepofsky waged a relentless decade long battle with the TTC to get them to announce all subway, bus and streetcar stops. He won that fight.

(Subway stop automated announcement)"...arriving at Saint Clair west Saint Clair west station..."

Karlene Nation: Now he's turning up the pressure on the province to make polling stations fully accessible for people with physical disabilities. He's also urging the use of simple technology to help blind people to vote. Lepofsky says voting machines that cost thousands of dollars per unit are very costly and unnecessary.

David Lepofsky: Telephone voting would be cheaper, easier, more appealing to everybody. It can be done with security and safety and privacy...

Karlene Nation: A committee of the legislature will vote on amendments to bill 231 on Wednesday. Disability groups will be on hand to see if all of their concerns are reflected in the amended bill. Karlene Nation CTV news.


TEXT OF APRIL 21, 2010 INTERVIEW ON CBC RADIO 1 TORONTO HERE AND NOW PROGRAM

Jane Hawtin: Earlier today at Queen's Park MPPs were debating whether to allow voting by phone and on the internet. Now the idea's being championed by advocates for the disabled who say getting to the polling stations is not always practical. So far the McGuinty government has shot down the idea of phone or internet voting but as today's committee meeting, that opposition was challenged and one of the people there to watch the proceedings was David Lepofsky. He's chair of the accessibility of ontarians with disabilities act alliance and he joins me now to talk about that. Hi David.

David Lepofsky: Good afternoon.

Jane Hawtin: So what's the latest.

David Lepofsky: Well, initially the McGuinty government was flat out opposed to any kind of voting technology that's connected to a network, like telephone voting or internet voting they were prepared to approve accessible voting machines that let blind people like me vote at the polling station with head phones on where you could click buttons and it would tell you your choices and so on. You could mark your ballot privately, which I never could do before. I was had to get someone else to mark it for me and hope they got it right, and kept it confidentially. The problem with those voting machines the McGuinty government was looking at is they cost eleven thousand dollars a pop and the government had no intention of putting them in every polling station. So we came forward with the idea and said well what about voting over the phone or the internet? After all you can bank by phone you can you can apply for unemployment insurance by internet and file your income tax. Surely you've gotta be able to vote that way too, securely and privately.

Jane Hawtin: Mmhmm.

David Lepofsky: Initially both opposition parties the conservatives and the n.d.p. agreed with us and proposed amendments to the election act which would have allowed that. Initially the McGuinty government said flat out no, they wanted it banned. They said if you ever want to change that later we'd have to come back and get new legislation passed to undo the ban.

We made some progress today not. Not as much as we'd like but we made some. The McGuinty government softened the ban they said that for one thing they've directed - they've passed amendments in committee which if approved on on third reading -- we expect they will be -- the cheap electoral officer is obliged for one thing to study different voting technologies and report to the legislature. That's good, only, the McGuinty government provision gives him fully three years to undertake this leisurely study we think...

Jane Hawtin: Hmph.

David Lepofsky: ... we deserve an answer sooner …

Jane Hawtin: Okay, so is that your major complaint with...

David Lepofsky: Well, no...

Jane Hawtin: ... this idea?

David Lepofsky: ... the other thing is if even if he finds that he approves it, the chief electoral officer can then bring it to the legislature and we have to get a standing committee of the legislature to then approve the approval before it it can be tried. It's also got to be test-piloted at a by-election. Our concern is that it could take a very long time? We're happy that it it's better than having to get legislation reformed. But our trouble with it is that it gives the chief electoral officer a veto, and he's not an elected official -- a veto on whether this technology will go forward, even if it turns out to be good.

Jane Hawtin: All right. So let, let's just pull this back a bit. Why is the the the phone and internet voting necessary? I mean, are there so many places that are inaccessible? I mean I understand the issue with you with your particular disability but what about everyone else? is how?

David Lepofsky: Well, they're people they're people who can't mark their ballot independently and privately, and confirm that they marked who they wanted, either because they have a vision loss-- and that's a lot of people -- or they're dyslexic or because they have a physical disability that may prevent them from being able to do that themselves. Internet or telephone technology could let them use access technology to be able to do that. Some may not be able to get to polling …Elections Ontario has a very unfortunately bad record of ensuring polling stations are physically accessible. Amendments that we won will require them to make them accessible and require them to post them six months in advance, polling locations, so that we can verify if they're accessible. But still, their past performance -- even the chief electoral officer says they've got improving to do. So that's one problem. When you get a card from elections Ontario that says your polling station will be accessible, you never really know till you get there if it will be, or if it won't be. So that's one problem. The other thing is if it's an election in lousy weather, there's some people who just don't wanna go slipsliding through the snow and ice...

Jane Hawtin: Right.

David Lepofsky: ... to vote. We think voters with disabilities and voters without disabilities together would welcome the convenience -- the alternative of being able to pick up the phone, type in a PIN number, hear what their choices are, click a button and, and they've voted.

Jane Hawtin: And where are they doing that now? Anywhere?

David Lepofsky: It's been done in Honolulu. It's been done in a town in England. There are various places it's been tried out. And there's technology that's been piloted by a company in the States and I believe a technology that's been piloted by a company in Eastern Canada. There are options to look at. In other words we agree it should be secure and safe. The thing is is that the government is so obsessed with security and safety of the vote. The irony is, they're allowing mail-in ballots for the first time. They're allowing any voter to use a mail-in ballot. And the only security you get from that is whatever security Canada Post provides...

Jane Hawtin: Yeah.

David Lepofsky: ... if you mail your ballot in if somebody nicks that letter you may not get the vote you meant.

Jane Hawtin: Right. So then what's next?

David Lepofsky: Well what's next is we people with disabilities around the province have been advocating for these we've been trying to get accessible elections for over ten years. This bill when it was introduced? was pretty weak. We've gotten some improvements. Not as much as we'd like. And as I said the opposition pushed for even stronger amendments and the government shot those down mostly. The bill comes back for third reading. When it's passed we will be on top of the government and elections Ontario to make sure -- to try to make sure that they don't take a leisurely three years to study technology that banks have been using already for many years...

Jane Hawtin: What's reasonable?

David Lepofsky: well let's ho let's hope we can get all voters the chance to pick up the phone and vote as an alternative to going to the polling station if they prefer.

Jane Hawtin: Within a year? two years? How long?

David Lepofsky: Well, the legislation doesn't allow it to happen before twenty twelve at the earliest, because of the twenty eleven elections coming up. But I think it would be it would be hopeful if the next general election after this one, was one that used twenty-first century technology as an option for voting. We think it would increase voter turnout, and that that's beneficial for everybody.

Jane Hawtin: Okay thanks David.

David Lepofsky: Thanks so much.

Jane Hawtin: By bye. David Lepofsky is chair of the accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities act alliance. You're listening to Here and Now…