ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

What New Efforts will Elections Ontario Make to Remove Barriers Impeding Voters with Disabilities During the June 12, 2014 Ontario Election?

May 8, 2014

Summary

On May 8, 2014, the AODA Alliance wrote Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa. We asked for details on any new steps Elections Ontario has taken to ensure that voters with disabilities do not face barriers when seeking to take part in the upcoming June 2014, 2014 Ontario general election. That letter is set out below.

Our letter asks about steps Elections Ontario has taken regarding:

  1. telephone and internet voting as an accessible voting option
  2. discovering and implementing other accessible voting options
  3. ensuring polling stations are physically accessible
  4. the former Disability Advisory Committee for Elections Ontario
  5. widely publicizing accessible voting options to voters with disabilities

To learn all about the uphill battle our community has waged for some fifteen years to try to tear down the recurring barriers against voters and candidates with disabilities in Ontario elections.

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Text of the AODA Alliance's May 8, 2014 Letter to Elections Ontario

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
email:  aodafeedback@gmail.com
Visit: www.aodalliance.org

via email

May 8, 2014

Mr. Greg Essensa, Chief Electoral Officer
Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, Ontario
M1R 3B1
facsimile (416) 326-6200
email greg.essensa@elections.on.ca

Dear Sir,

Re: Ensuring Accessible Elections in Ontario for Voters and Candidates with Disabilities

We are eager to know what steps Elections Ontario has taken since the October 2011 Ontario general election to ensure that the upcoming Ontario election will be fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities. We are especially interested to know what new accessibility improvements will be in place in this election, that were not in place in the 2011 Ontario election, to ensure that disability barriers do not impede voters and candidates with disabilities in this election.

It is Elections Ontario's responsibility to ensure that the entire voting process is fully accessible and barrier-free for all voters with disabilities. Voters with disabilities have the fundamental right to be able to reach and be mobile in all polling stations and returning offices, and the right to independently mark their ballot in private and verify their choice. People with disabilities should also have equal opportunity to work in Elections Ontario jobs in any and all polling stations.

As you know, voters with disabilities have too often faced barriers in every Ontario election up to now. You have spoken in the past about the importance of accessibility in the election process, and about Elections Ontario's responsibility to ensure elections accessibility and to do so in an open, transparent and accountable way. In the past you have candidly recognized that more needs to be done. We want to find out what more you have done.     

We are therefore eager to obtain specific information, in addition to your responses to the general questions set out above.

1. Telephone and Internet Voting as an Accessible Voting Option

At the end of June 2013, after three years of study, you rendered your report to the Legislature on the options of telephone and internet voting. We profoundly disagree with your unwillingness, expressed in that report, to deploy telephone and internet voting, an accessible voting technology. Telephone and internet voting could make a great difference, especially for voters with disabilities.

We also have disagreed with your refusal to even test it in any Ontario by-election up until now. The Legislature gave Elections Ontario the mandate and power to test telephone and internet voting in any by-election, starting in January 2012. You refused to try it in any of the nine by-elections that have been held over that period, despite having committed to us to be ready to do so. Had you tried telephone and internet voting in one or more of those by-elections, Ontarians with disabilities, and other voters,  could well have had the chance to use telephone and internet voting in the upcoming June 12 Ontario general election.

In your June 2013 report to the Legislature, you recommended that telephone and internet voting be studied further, in addition to the three years of study that you had just completed. We would like to know what further specific study you have conducted of these voting options over the year since you rendered that report. What results have you obtained from this further study? What specific plans and timetable do you have for completing any further study on this topic?

As you no doubt know, the City of Toronto is commendably aiming to offer telephone and internet voting in the October 2014 municipal election for voters with disabilities. We have urged Elections Ontario to monitor the use of telephone and internet voting in other venues, such as in municipal elections, in the hope that this will allay your deep-rooted trepidation about this accessible voting option.

We would like to know what steps you are taking to monitor and study Toronto's efforts in the 2014 municipal elections. We also would like to know what efforts you are deploying to monitor and study the use of telephone and internet voting in the many other Ontario municipalities that will use these in this fall's municipal elections. The municipal experience could serve as a testing ground, while Elections Ontario continues to refuse to use its authority to test telephone and internet voting in a provincial by-election.

2. Other Accessible Voting Options

What additional accessible voting options will you deploy, or have you investigated for voters with disabilities, especially since rendering your June 2013 report on telephone and internet voting, in light of your ongoing rejection of telephone and internet voting? The major new initiative that Elections Ontario deployed in the 2011 Ontario general election was an accessible voting machine during advance polls but not on voting day. It was only available  in one or two locations per riding.

Your experience in the 2011 Ontario general election has overwhelmingly demonstrated that this option is not an effective and comprehensive solution. According to Elections Ontario, a miniscule 166 voters with disabilities, of the hundreds of thousands of Ontario voters with disabilities, used those accessible voting machines in the 2011 Ontario election.

Moreover, some voters experienced unacceptable technical problems with their operations, including me. This happened despite Elections Ontario's testing of them and training of its staff. Please let us know what has been done since the 2011 election to ensure that these machines reliably and consistently operate properly in this election.

3. Ensuring Polling Stations are Physically Accessible

In the 2011 election, the Elections Act required Elections Ontario to post proposed polling station locations several months in advance, so that persons with disabilities could give input on whether these locations were accessible. Because the June 12, 2014 election was called on short notice, we gather that Elections Ontario has not done this again since 2011. What additional steps is Elections Ontario taking to ensure that all polling station locations are entirely accessible, without exception?

4. Disability Advisory Committee for Elections Ontario

For a time, Elections Ontario commendably had an advisory committee on disability accessibility. However, Elections Ontario unwisely dissolved that committee some time after the 2011 election. We want to know if it has been re-established, and if not, why not.

5. Widely Publicizing Accessible Voting Options to Voters with Disabilities

We strongly urge Elections Ontario to widely publicize accessible voting options for voters with disabilities, and to establish and widely publicize a dedicated phone number to call if a voter faces disability voting barriers. Please let us know if you plan to do so.

For our part, we would like to publicize any tips that Elections Ontario wants to share with voters with disabilities, to ensure that they can minimize any barriers in this election. Can you please send us an accessible Word document that sets out, in plain language, all the information about this. We wish to circulate it to voters as soon as possible.

With the election now upon us, we look forward to your response as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O. Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance

cc: Premier  Kathleen Wynne, kwynne.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, ehoskins.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Wendy Tilford, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment wendy.tilford@ontario.ca
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate, ann.hoy@ontario.ca
Tim Hudak, Leader of the Official Opposition, tim.hudakco@pc.ola.org
Andrea Horwath, Third Party Leader, ahorwath-qp@ndp.on.ca