ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

ELECTIONS ONTARIO DECLINES OUR PROPOSALS TO MAKE ONTARIO'S TWO SEPTEMBER 6, 2012 BY-ELECTIONS FULLY ACCESSIBLE TO VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES – UNDAUNTED, WE PRESS ELECTIONS ONTARIO FOR FULL DISCLOSURE OF ITS EFFORTS TO DATE AND FUTURE PLANS REGARDING VOTING ACCESSIBILITY INCLUDING TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING

September 14, 2012

SUMMARY

Yet again, the AODA Alliance presses ahead with our effort to ensure that elections in Ontario become fully accessible to an estimated one million or more voters with disabilities in this province.

Earlier, on August 24, 2012, we wrote Elections Ontario to propose measures to help ensure that the two Ontario by-elections to be held on September 6, 2012 would be accessible to voters with disabilities in those two ridings, the Kitchener-Waterloo riding and the Vaughan riding. AODA Alliance's August 24, 2012 letter to Elections Ontario.

We regret that Elections Ontario did not reply to that letter until the end of the business day on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. That was the eve of the by-elections. We also regret that in this reply, Elections Ontario rejected all our proposals to help ensure that the vote was fully accessible. We set out below Elections Ontario's September 5, 2012 letter to us.

Elections Ontario again did not fully answer some of our important inquiries. That has happened more than once in recent years.

On September 10, 2012, we responded to Elections Ontario's most recent letter. Our newest  letter is set out below. In it we ask Elections Ontario a series of important questions about its recent actions and future plans for making elections in Ontario fully accessible, including its plans for testing telephone and internet voting. Some of these are questions we have asked before, and for which we have not gotten full answers. Also we ask Elections Ontario to now give us in accessible format some key documents concerning the accessibility of the 2011 Ontario general election to voters with disabilities.
 
Over one year ago, on August 19, 2011, Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote the AODA Alliance to set out his 2011 election promises to Ontarians with disabilities, on making Ontario fully accessible by 2025. Among other things, he promised to continue to build on progress on making municipal and provincial elections more accessible to voters with disabilities. On September 5, 2012, we made public our Report Card on how much progress the McGuinty Government has made at keeping all his 2011 election promises on accessibility for persons with disabilities. On the promise regarding elections accessibility, we gave the McGuinty Government a grade of "very poor" and "promise not kept."

Premier McGuinty's August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance, listing his party's disability accessibility 2011 election promises

Our September 5, 2012 Report Card on the McGuinty Government's record at keeping its 2011 disability accessibility election promises

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Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario

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MORE DETAILS

Our letters back and forth with Elections Ontario since 2010 show the saga of our efforts to get information from Elections Ontario on these topics, and our efforts to get Elections Ontario to move promptly in important areas, most notably in the area of implementing telephone and internet voting as an option for voters with disabilities and all voters in Ontario. Here are links to our exchange of correspondence with Elections Ontario since the Legislature passed Bill 231 to incorporate new accessibility requirements in Ontario's Elections Act, back in May 2010:

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TEXT OF ELECTIONS ONTARIO'S SEPTEMBER 5, 2012 LETTER TO THE AODA ALLIANCE

Loren Wells
Deputy Chief Electoral Officer
Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Toronto, Ontario
M4G 3E8
416-326-6300

September 5, 2012

Mr. David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky,

The Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa, has asked me to respond to your letters, addressed to him and dated May 23, 2012 and August 24, 2012. My letter will address the topics as set out in your most recent letter.

1.         Telephone and Internet Voting (Alternative Voting Technology – Section 44.3 of the Election Act)

In your letters, you inquired about our plans for piloting alternative voting technologies (e.g., internet and/or telephone voting) and you requested a meeting with us to discuss the subject. You also asked us to explain the steps we have taken with respect to a pilot and regarding our decision not to undertake a pilot this year.

In response to your earlier letter of May 14, 2012, we outlined the reasons for our decision in our letter to you of May 22, 2012 in which we indicated that we will not be in a position to pilot alternative voting technology this year.

As we went on to say in that letter, Elections Ontario will, as outlined in the Election Act, be reviewing and reporting to the Legislative Assembly on a range of alternative voting technologies before June 30, 2013.

The review will include an assessment of the viability of telephone and internet voting. It will consider how to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and how best to serve electors in a modern, responsive and efficient manner.

As part of the review, we are undertaking a focused consultation with a number of key stakeholder groups this Fall regarding our research conclusions on alternative voting technologies. As part of this consultative process, we will be inviting you to a meeting with us where you can share your insights into the use of alternative voting technologies, which will provide assistance to us as we prepare the report for the Legislature.

2.         Deployment of Accessible Voting Machines on Voting Day in the two September 6, 2012 Ontario By-elections (Assistive Voting Technology – Section 44.1 of the Election Act)

You asked whether Elections Ontario will be deploying Assistive Voting Technology in 140 locations during the by-elections currently underway in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan. You also suggested that we make Assistive Voting Technology available on voting day itself.

As we had indicated in our letter to you of May 22, 2012, Assistive Voting Technology is only available in returning offices. It is not available on voting day, but can be used during advance polls and up until the day before voting day. This adheres to subsection 44.1(3) of the Election Act.

You have asked us a similar question previously, notably in your letter of November 18, 2010 which asked that we issue direction under section 4.4 of the Election Act to allow for the deployment of Assistive Voting Technology in a far larger number of polling stations than required by law, and consider using network-connected machines or network-connected accessible voting technology.

Our reply to you of December 3, 2010 indicated that the Election Act provides that Assistive Voting Technology be stationed in each returning office. The Chief Electoral Officer indicated that he did not believe that he had the discretion you suggested to override the Election Act.

I would also like to clarify that Elections Ontario leased rather than purchased the Assistive Voting Technology in question for the purposes of the October 2011 General Election. As mentioned, the Election Act requires that we only use Assistive Voting Technology in returning offices. Accordingly, we have only leased the equipment that we are authorized to use for the September 6, 2012 by-elections.

3.         Other Outstanding Questions

We have re-examined the questions you indicated were unanswered with respect to your three previous letters to us. Your questions concerned alternative voting technologies, Assistive Voting Technology and accessibility reports.

The Chief Electoral Officer has a responsibility to report to the Legislative Assembly on a number of subjects as prescribed by the Election Act. The report that he will be tabling in the Legislature next year will comprehensively cover many aspects of alternative voting technologies. Information about the use of Assistive Voting Technology will be integrated into our 2011 General Election report, which we plan to table this Fall.

In addition to reporting on the use of Assistive Voting Technology, the 2011 General Election report will also include the reports regarding accessibility measures undertaken in the October 2011 General Election and a summary of the 107 returning officer reports on accessibility. All of the 107 individual reports will be made available at the same time on our website in an accessible format.

Lastly, you asked us in your most recent letter of August 24, 2012 about the status of the Elections Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Committee members appointed in December 2010 were mandated to sit as members until March 31, 2012. At our request, most members agreed to stay on until this summer to assist with some residual issues. We have met with the Committee six times since its inception. The Committee’s final meeting, the third since the 2011 General Election, was held on August 16, 2012.

At that meeting, Mr. Essensa noted that, with the Committee’s support, Elections Ontario has made significant progress in building inclusive accessible processes into election delivery and its day to day operations.

For the immediate future, Elections Ontario has determined that the best way to exercise its commitment to accessibility is to focus on the substantial advice which has already been provided by the Committee. Elections Ontario will work to ensure that the organization has taken all necessary steps to comply with new AODA requirements and will continue to review advice already provided by the Committee in order to determine opportunities for future implementation of accessibility initiatives. In addition, members of the current Committee have been asked if they can continue to be available to consult with Elections Ontario on accessibility issues.

As anticipated when we established the Accessibility Advisory Committee, we are undertaking an evaluation of the Committee’s mandate, structure and achievements and consideration will be given to what the next generation Accessibility Advisory Committee may comprise.

In conclusion, thank you for the opportunity to reiterate and perhaps clarify some of our communications with you, and also for the opportunity to update you on the status of some of our accessibility-related initiatives. We anticipate sending you a letter of invitation to a meeting about alternative voting technologies in the near future. We look forward to your participation in these important discussions.

Yours truly,
 

Loren A. Wells
Deputy Chief Electoral Officer

cc:        Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier
            mcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
            Tim Hudak, Leader, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
            tim.hudak.co@pc.ola.org
            Andrea Horwath, Leader, New Democratic Party of Ontario
            ahorwath-qp@ndp.on.ca
            Hon. John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services
            john.milloy@ontario.ca          
            Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services
            marg.rappolt@ontario.ca
            Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate
            Ellen.Waxman@ontario.ca

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TEXT OF THE AODA ALLIANCE'S SEPTEMBER 10, 2012 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

September 10, 2012

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: Making Ontario Elections Fully Accessible to All Voters with Disabilities
 
We are writing in response to the September 5, 2012 letter to us from Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Ms. Loren Wells. We regret that Elections Ontario rejected all our proposals of ways to better ensure that the vote is fully accessible to voters with disabilities in the September 6, 2012 by-elections that were held in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding and the Vaughan riding. We also regret that Elections Ontario opted to respond to our earlier inquiries and proposals about accessibility measures in those two September 6 by-elections, by a letter sent to us on the eve of those by-elections at the end of the day, on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. Elections Ontario's timing precluded us from being able to make that information widely available while it remained relevant to voters in those two by-elections.

We wish to address a series of important and still-outstanding questions to you as Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer.

1. Would you, as Chief Electoral Officer, please agree to meet with us as soon as possible to discuss our concerns about voting accessibility, including the need to be ready to deploy telephone and internet voting?

We asked you over three months ago, in our May 23, 2012 letter, to personally meet directly with us. We wish to discuss with you our ongoing concerns about Elections Ontario's efforts to ensure that elections in Ontario are fully accessible to voters with disabilities, with a particular emphasis on the issue of telephone and internet voting. To date, you have not answered that request.

In her September 5, 2012 letter to us, sent after we repeated our request to meet with you in our August 24, 2012 letter to you, your subordinate, Ms. Loren Wells, says that we will be invited at some future date to attend a stakeholder consultation on telephone and internet voting that Elections Ontario plans to hold. That is no substitute for the face-to-face meeting with you now, as Chief Electoral Officer that we have requested, and still need.

Early in 2010, shortly after you were first appointed as Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer, you met with a delegation of the AODA Alliance. At that time, you said you wanted to have a direct working relationship with us. In the early months of 2010, you were open not only to meeting in person with us, and to responding directly to our letters, but also to speaking on the phone. You called me directly when the media reported on a preventable barrier at a downtown Toronto polling station during the February 4, 2010 Toronto Centre by-election.

Since then, however, you have taken a different approach. Though we have written directly to you on several occasions to raise concerns and make inquiries about Elections Ontario's efforts on voting accessibility, you have delegated your subordinate, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Loren Wells, to answer all our written inquiries since you last wrote us back on December 3, 2010.

This situation is made worse by the fact that in a number of letters to us, your Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Ms. Wells, declined to fully answer some of our questions that you had delegated to her to answer. We highlight examples in this letter.

Our non-partisan community coalition is widely recognized for spearheading the campaign to make Ontario fully accessible for persons with disabilities. As part of this, we are also widely recognized as leading the campaign to make elections in Ontario fully accessible to voters with disabilities including, for example, through telephone and internet voting. Any and all major Ontario political parties that have made election commitments regarding elections accessibility, or about accessibility generally, in the recent two Ontario elections, have done so via correspondence to our coalition. Especially in light of your public commitments for Elections Ontario to be open, transparent and accountable, we believe that a face-to-face meeting with you is important and overdue.

2. Could you please give a specific and detailed explanation why Elections Ontario was not prepared to test telephone and internet voting in any 2012 by-election.

In your December 3, 2010 letter to us, you specifically committed that you planned to be ready to test this technology in a by-election in 2012. Your 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."

Back in our May 14, 2012 letter to you, we asked if Elections Ontario would be deploying telephone and internet voting in the upcoming (then unscheduled) Kitchener Waterloo by-election. Ms. Wells, responding on your behalf, wrote us on May 22, 2012. She announced that Elections Ontario would not deploy telephone and internet voting in any 2012 by-election. All Ms. Wells told us in that letter about the reasons for that refusal was, in substance, that you have found this very complicated, and must be ready for a general election at any time. She wrote:

"You asked whether Elections Ontario will be providing the option of telephone and internet voting in the expected by-election in the Electoral District of Kitchener-Waterloo.

A key part of Elections Ontario’s strategic vision focuses on putting the elector first. In addition, Elections Ontario is required to deliver elections to Ontario voters in a manner that does not discriminate. Accordingly, we are committed to piloting alternative voting technology during a by-election and we have undertaken extensive research to that end.

Our research to date has shown how complex it is to deliver an election that incorporates technology into the provincial electoral process. All business areas are affected, not simply those directly associated with voting. In order to achieve the high quality results required to comply with the Election Act, we are taking steps to ensure that appropriate integration has been effected before we move to the piloting stage.

We must also be prepared to deliver a general election on very short notice. In our current circumstances, integration must take place at the same time that we are prepared to deliver a general election. Accordingly, we will not be in a position to pilot alternative voting technology this year."

She also wrote:

"We will continue to evaluate our capacity to pilot alternative voting technology as we move forward, and remain committed to modernizing elections and enhancing accessibility. We are determined to test modern accessible voting technology as soon as circumstances permit."

Because this answer was clearly insufficient, we asked you for specifics in Our May 23, 2012 and August 24, 2012 letters to you. In her September 5, 2012 letter to us, all Ms. Wells said on your behalf was:

"In response to your earlier letter of May 14, 2012, we outlined the reasons for our decision in our letter to you of May 22, 2012 in which we indicated that we will not be in a position to pilot alternative voting technology this year.

As we went on to say in that letter, Elections Ontario will, as outlined in the Election Act, be reviewing and reporting to the Legislative Assembly on a range of alternative voting technologies before June 30, 2013.

The review will include an assessment of the viability of telephone and internet voting. It will consider how to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and how best to serve electors in a modern, responsive and efficient manner."

We believe that Ontario voters, including Ontario voters with disabilities, deserve a more detailed answer from Elections Ontario. It is not clear from Ms. Wells' letters to us whether Elections Ontario feels it won't ever be able to test telephone and internet voting in a by-election so long as Ontario has a minority government, and a general election could be called at any time. Elections Ontario is the public agency mandated with ensuring that all provincial elections and by-elections in Ontario are fully accessible to voters with disabilities. As you personally are the sole public official with a mandate under the Elections Act to authorize deployment of telephone and internet voting in a by-election, we believe that it is incumbent on you personally to provide a far more specific and detailed explanation for Elections Ontario's unpreparedness to deploy it.

3. Please explain what happened with the Elections Ontario Request for Proposal (RFP) for an organization to assist with telephone and internet voting, and what has come of Elections Ontario's meeting in the fall of 2010 with one company that can provide accessible telephone and internet voting.

In Ms. Wells' November 17, 2011 letter to us, Ms. Wells wrote: "Elections Ontario has done extensive analysis and research on networked voting solutions, has consulted with our Accessibility Advisory Committee and other jurisdictions, and we have just released a Request for Proposals to engage with the vendor community to look for an option that meets the needs of Ontarians."

In that RFP, Elections Ontario was said to be looking for an organization to retain to assist with testing telephone and internet voting in a by-election. In our August 24, 2012 letter to you, we asked what happened with that RFP. We also asked what came of your fall 2010 meeting with one telephone and internet voting provider of which we are aware. Ms. Wells' September 5, 2012 letter does not answer these questions.

4. Please tell us by when Elections Ontario plans to be ready to test telephone and internet voting in a by-election in Ontario.

To date, Elections Ontario has talked about doing research, holding consultations and writing reports. However, we have not received a specific indication of when Elections Ontario will in fact be ready to test telephone and internet voting. We only know that you will not be ready in 2012.

In our May 23, 2012 letter to you, we asked among other things, the following:

"Could you please let us know in detail what steps Elections Ontario has taken to prepare to deploy telephone and internet voting in a by-election, when these steps were each completed, what remaining steps Elections Ontario believes it still must take to prepare to deploy these accessible voting options, why those remaining steps have not yet been completed, and by when Elections Ontario plans to complete those remaining steps."

Ms. Wells' September 5, 2012 letter, written over two months after our inquiry, does not provide a specific answer.

5. When does Elections Ontario plan to release its report to the Legislature on telephone and internet voting.

The Elections Act requires that Elections Ontario release a report on telephone and internet voting by the end of June 2013. We have urged Elections Ontario to produce it much sooner. Elections Ontario has already had almost two and a half years to prepare this report. Elections Ontario has said in earlier letters to us that it has been working on this since some time in 2010.

We are eager to know why this is taking Elections Ontario so long. For example, Ms. Wells says in her September 5, 2012 letter to us that Elections Ontario is now planning to set up a stakeholder consultation on telephone and internet voting. This is quite delayed. You wrote us over two years ago about plans to set up consultations to address accessibility issues and requirements in the Election Act, as amended by Bill 231 in early May 2010. In that letter, you said:

"In the near-term, Elections Ontario will be setting up a variety of consultation sessions, including opportunities for electors with disabilities, to provide feedback to the agency on specific implementation issues under the new legislation.

These consultation processes may include focus groups and advisory committees and will be detailed in an Accessibility Action Plan to be released by Elections Ontario to the public in the coming months."

6. Please immediately provide us with an accessible copy of the report that was submitted to Elections Ontario by each returning officer in the 2011 general election, under s. 55.1 of the Elections Act on the measures that the officer has taken to provide accessibility for electors with disabilities in the district. We also request a copy of any analysis or synthesis of any or all of those reports that Elections Ontario has prepared, or has had prepared for it. Finally please provide any such report on the two September 6, 2012 Ontario by-elections as soon as they are submitted to Elections Ontario.

Each returning officer must submit a report to Elections Ontario on their accessibility efforts in their riding during an election. We understand from Ms. Wells' September 5, 2012 letter that Elections Ontario plans to post these reports from the 2011 Ontario general election on its website later this fall. Because almost a year has already passed since the 2011 Ontario general election, we do not want to wait for that web posting.

7. Please give us in an accessible format any survey of voters that Elections Ontario conducted after the 2011 Ontario General election under section 67.1 of the Elections Act, including any results of that survey and any analysis of those results or findings based on it.

Under section 67.1 of the Elections Act, Elections Ontario is required to conduct a survey of voters as soon as possible after voting day, in order to examine what barriers, if any, they encountered, in having their names added to the permanent register of electors or a polling list, in attending at polling places, or in casting their votes; and any other matter that the Chief Electoral Officer considers useful in order to improve the administration of elections.

We would like a copy of this survey and any results and analysis of its findings. We would also like to know when this survey was conducted after the 2011 Ontario general election. We are not limiting this request to the contents of Elections Ontario's Annual Report that may address it.

8. When Elections Ontario leased some 140 accessible voting machines for the 2011 Ontario general election, what price was paid on a per-machine basis, and for all machines in total?

In the 2011 Ontario general election, Elections Ontario deployed a total of 140 accessible voting machines for all voters with disabilities right across this province. In her September 5, 2012 letter to us, Ms. Wells said that Elections Ontario leased the limited number of accessible voting machines that it deployed in the 2011 Ontario general election. Ontario did not purchase them. We also would like to know who made the decision to lease them, rather than purchasing them, and when that decision was made.

We look forward to hearing from you on these important issues.

Sincerely,

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

cc:        Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, fax 416-325-9895, email mcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
            John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-3347, email john.milloy@ontario.ca
            Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-5240, email marg.rappolt@ontario.ca
            Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate, fax (416) 325-9620, email Ellen.Waxman@ontario.ca
            Tim Hudak, Leader of the Official Opposition, fax (416) 325-0491, email tim.hudakco@pc.ola.org
            Andrea Horwath, Third Party Leader, fax (416) 325-8222, email ahorwath-qp@ndp.on.ca