ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

AODA Alliance Calls on Elections Ontario to Offer Telephone and Internet Voting in Upcoming as-Yet Unscheduled By-elections And Seeks More Information about Elections Ontario's Plans Regarding These Accessible Voting Technologies

June 10, 2013

SUMMARY

Ontario provincial by-elections will be called in the next few weeks, arising out of recent resignations from the Ontario Legislature. As our latest effort to make elections in Ontario fully accessible for voters with disabilities, we wrote Elections Ontario on June 7, 2013. We urged Elections Ontario to deploy accessible telephone and internet voting in these upcoming by-elections. Elections Ontario is the non-partisan public agency responsible for administering provincial elections in Ontario, and for ensuring that the voting process is fully accessible to all voters with disabilities. Our June 7, 2013 letter to Elections Ontario is set out below.

Many voters, such as those with vision loss, dyslexia, or certain dexterity limitations, cannot independently mark a paper ballot at a polling station in private, and verify that the ballot was marked as they wished. Until now, Elections Ontario has not provided these voters fully accessible alternative ways to vote that are equally available all over the province, and that allow any voter at any polling station or elsewhere to mark their own ballot in private and verify their selection. Telephone and internet voting could achieve this for many of these voters with disabilities. It would also be popular for many other voters, including those with no disability.

At present Ontario’s Elections Act includes an unjustified, draconian ban on the use of telephone and internet voting in a general Ontario election. However, as an exception, it permits Elections Ontario to test these accessible voting alternatives in Ontario by-elections, any time after January 1, 2012.

We earlier urged Elections Ontario to be ready to deploy telephone and internet voting as soon as possible in 2012. Back on December 3, 2010, Elections Ontario committed to us in writing that it planned to be ready to test these accessible voting technologies by January 1, 2012.

Flying in the face of that commitment, Elections Ontario later told us in writing on May 22, 2012 that it categorically refused to deploy telephone and/or internet voting in any by-elections in 2012. There were two by-elections in 2012 where they could have been tested.

We are concerned that Elections Ontario not miss this next opportunity to test these technologies. The Elections Act lets Elections Ontario recommend to a Committee of the Legislature that it lift the absolute ban on the use of telephone and internet voting in a general Ontario election, but only after Elections Ontario has tested these voting options in a by-election. If Elections Ontario doesn’t test them in a by-election, we are left with this unfair and unjustified bar to fully accessible voting for many people with disabilities.

There is no reason why Elections Ontario cannot be ready to test these accessible voting technologies now. The Legislature gave it the power to do so in a by-election. Elections Ontario says it has been studying telephone and internet voting for the past three years. Ontario municipalities like Cobourg have successfully deployed these voting technologies in municipal elections.

In our June 7, 2013 letter to Elections Ontario, we raise a number of other important questions. For example, we ask whether Elections Ontario will be delivering its mandatory report to the Ontario Legislature on telephone and internet voting by June 30, 2013, the legal deadline which the Legislature has set. We also ask whether Elections Ontario will immediately release that report to the public, in a fully accessible format, as soon as it delivers that report to the Legislature.

Our June 7, 2013 letter includes links to key earlier correspondence between Elections Ontario and us on this issue. Learn more about our long and winding multi-year campaign for fully accessible voting in Ontario.

In other accessibility news, fully 10 days have passed since the legal deadline for the Ontario Government to appoint an Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Government is still violating that law. It is thereby setting a terrible example for other organizations that have to obey that law. Read our May 31, 2013 guest column in the on-line edition of the Toronto Star on the Government’s failure to appoint an Independent Review of the Disabilities Act

As well, a troubling 139 days have passed since we wrote the Ontario Government to ask for its plans to keep its pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. We have received no substantive response to that inquiry. Learn more about our request for the Ontario Government’s plans to enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.      

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TEXT OF AODA ALLIANCE’S JUNE 7 2013 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

June 7, 2013

Via Email
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: Promoting Accessible Voting for Voters with Disabilities by Implementing Telephone and Internet Voting in Ontario Elections

We are writing to follow up on the March 11, 2013 letter to us from Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Lauren Wells.

We regret that the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer’s March 11, 2013 letter  left a number of our important questions totally or partially unanswered.

We are eager for your responses to those unanswered questions and to the following:

1.         Will Elections Ontario be submitting its final report on telephone and internet voting by the mandatory June 30, 2013 deadline? On what specific date will it be submitted?

2.         Will Elections Ontario post that entire final report including all supporting appendices or background papers on the Elections Ontario website immediately upon submitting it to the Legislature? We ask that the report be posted immediately, and that there be no lag time before it is available to the public. We also ask that it be posted on line, in a fully accessible MS Word format. We also ask that it be downloadable as one document, rather than our having to click on sequential pages or chapters to be able to acquire it in a fully accessible format.

3.         As you know, there are now some vacancies in the Ontario Legislature. By-elections will have to be held in the coming months. Will Elections Ontario be testing telephone and/or internet voting in any or all of these by-elections? If not, why not? Elections Ontario has had fully three years to be ready to test them.

We strongly urge that Elections Ontario use these by-elections to test the accessible voting options of telephone and internet voting. Back in 2010, the Ontario Legislature gave Elections Ontario the authority and mandate to test such accessible voting options as telephone and internet voting starting in January 2012. Elections Ontario has said it has been studying these options over the past three years.

Elections Ontario had committed back on December 3, 2010 that it planned to be ready to test those accessible voting options in a by-election in 2012. Your December 3, 2010 letter stated:

"We plan to be ready for this testing in by-elections held after January 1, 2012 as there are currently no vacancies in the Legislative Assembly and it will be dissolved less than a year from now."

Elections Ontario’s December3, 2010 letter to the AODA Alliance.

Despite this, Elections Ontario told us on May 22, 2012 that it would not test telephone and internet voting any time in 2012. Elections Ontario’s May 22, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05242012.asp

As you know, the Elections Act requires Elections Ontario to test these accessible voting technologies in a by-election before it can recommend to a Committee of the Ontario Legislature to lift the draconian legislative ban on the use of those accessible voting technologies in a general provincial election. We have told Elections Ontario several times over the past three years that it is critical to voters with disabilities that Elections Ontario test these in a by-election as soon as possible.

We reaffirm our view that all voters, and not just voters with disabilities, will welcome and benefit from telephone and internet voting. They have been successfully deployed in Ontario at the municipal level. We still await a complete and informative answer to our December 7, 2012 letter to you, in which we asked for more specifics on your earlier reluctance to test these accessible voting technologies in a provincial by-election at any time in 2012.

4.         In the 2010 amendments to the Elections Act, instead of approving telephone and internet voting as we requested, the Ontario Government proposed amendments to require deployment of a limited number of stand-alone accessible voting machines during an Ontario election or by-election. We have always felt that these were an inadequate alternative. The fact that fewer than 200 voters across Ontario used them in the 2011 Ontario general election amply proves our point.

We wish to know if you personally told the Ontario Government that the stand-alone accessible voting machines which the Legislature approved in 2010 for deployment in future elections, would cost $10,000 per machine, and/or $15,000 per machine (including training costs). In our December 7, 2012 letter to you, we asked about this. In her March 11, 2013 letter to us, sent on your behalf, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Lauren Wells merely stated: "I am not aware of the source of that information." She only spoke about her personal knowledge. That left unanswered the question whether you, as Chief Electoral Officer, gave that costing information to the Government, or if you know who did.

We want to know if that costing information came from you, and if not, if you could tell us who provided it to the Government. In any event, we want to know what costing information anyone gave the Ontario Government, on behalf of or at the request of Elections Ontario.

Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara, formerly chair of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Elections, spearheaded the amendments to the Elections Act in 2010 that included the amendments addressing voting accessibility generally, and these new stand-alone voting machines. We know that he worked closely with you on these amendments, and relied on advice from you. As but one illustration of how this came up, during Standing Committee hearings at the Legislature on March 31, 2010 into proposed accessibility amendments to the Elections Act, Mr. Sorbara asked the following to a representative of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind:

“Mr. Greg Sorbara: My question is along the lines of my friend Mr. Prue. Let me put it this way: In the work that we did in the select committee, we found that, currently, the voting machine of the type that Ontario is going to be using costs, with the training associated with it, about $15,000. As Mr. Prue said, there are about 15,000 locations - polling places - in the province of Ontario for a general election. If you do the math, that’s $225 million to supply all polling places with this kind of capacity. Does the CNIB realistically suggest to the government, which is looking at $20 billion in red ink, that to assist the disability community its first priority should be to spend $225 million on voting machines for the next election?”

During earlier proceedings of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Elections, chaired by Mr. Sorbara, you appeared and gave a detailed presentation about the proposed stand-alone accessible voting machine.

We look forward to hearing back from you on these issues 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