ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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FULLY ACCESSIBLE VOTING NOT YET A REALITY IN ONTARIO- A PRIORITY FOR OUR NEXT LEGISLATURE – AND LISTEN TO AODA ALLIANCE CHAIR'S INTERVIEW ON CFRB RADIO

October 4, 2011

SUMMARY

Here are three new developments in the last few days of our non-partisan 2011 election campaign for a fully accessible Ontario.

1. Accessible Voting Not Fully Available on Election Day-Important to Vote in Advance if You Can

2. Need for the Next Ontario Legislature to Promptly Adopt Telephone and Internet Voting

3. More Media Coverage of Our Accessibility Issues

            MORE DETAILS

1. ACCESSIBLE VOTING NOT FULLY AVAILABLE ON ELECTION DAY-IMPORTANT TO VOTE IN ADVANCE IF YOU CAN

In a restriction that can only be called bizarre, the Elections Act does not allow Elections Ontario to use fully accessible voting machines, purchased at public expense, on October 6, 2011, the Election Day itself. Elections Ontario is permitted to make those machines available to voters with disabilities only in their Returning Offices and Satellite Returning offices for voters for the days leading up to the actual Election Day. 

Thus, if you want to use an accessible voting machine to mark your ballot, due to a physical disability, vision loss, dyslexia, or other disability that these machines accommodate, you should go to your riding's Returning Office today (October 4) or tomorrow (October 5). It is important that you disregard media announcements that have publicized that advanced polls are now closed. These announcements have confused some voters. Returning Offices remain open up to Election Day for voters to vote in advance of Election Day. When you go to a Returning Office, today or tomorrow, you will vote via a "special ballot," but you will be able to vote and you will be able to use the accessible voting machine if you need it. You also have the choice there to mark the ballot yourself or have someone else mark it for you, if you need that assistance and don't want to use the accessible voting machine.

If you do not vote at a Returning office today or tomorrow, you will only have the option on Thursday October 6, 2011 of voting at your local polling station, without the aid of any accessible voting machine.

We need Ontario's election legislation amended to fix this. Why should voters with disabilities be denied accessible voting machines on the very day when most Ontarians actually go to the polls to vote? Elections Ontario should be able to accommodate this need.

If you have any doubt about where, when or how you can vote, call Elections Ontario. The toll free number for the Public Call Centre is 1-888-668-8683   The TTY/ATS number is 1-866-469-1118.  These numbers will remain operational until October 6, 2011.

2. NEED FOR THE NEXT ONTARIO LEGISLATURE TO PROMPTLY ADOPT TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING

We must alert you that there appear to be some problems with the new accessible voting machines.  Please let us and Elections Ontario know if you have any problems with them. You can email us at: aodaFeedback@gmail.com

One blind voter reported to us and Elections Ontario that when he went to vote using it a few days ago in a Toronto riding, he encountered real problems, despite helpful Elections Ontario officials. In a separate incident, AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky, who is also blind, has reported to Elections Ontario that when he went to use the new accessible voting machine at a different Toronto riding, the machine worked to mark his ballot. However, when he proceeded to use the machine to verify his choice before finalizing the ballot, the audio instructions that the accessible voting machine provides got stuck in a loop, repeating the same instruction over and over. He figured out himself what key to hit next to bypass this and successfully finalize the verification process.

We have alerted Elections Ontario to these concerns, and have offered to help get this quickly cleared up. We are deeply troubled that these machines are not 100% reliable. Elections Ontario tested them in by-elections, and vouched for them to the Ontario Legislature last year during controversial public debates over Bill 231.

During public debates over Bill 231 last year, we had proposed that Ontario's Elections Act be amended to allow all voters, including voters with disabilities, to use accessible internet and telephone voting. That could avoid or reduce the need for these custom-made accessible voting machines. It would also be a more cost-effective solution. We did not fully succeed in that effort.

In a partial victory last year, Bill 231 requires Elections Ontario to study alternative voting technologies (like internet and telephone voting). However it gives Elections Ontario a leisurely and unnecessary 3 years. It requires Elections Ontario to report back in mid 2013, and possibly test internet and telephone voting in a future by-election. It also lets Elections Ontario propose to a Committee of the Legislature that the current unjustified legal ban on telephone and internet voting be lifted. However, that leaves the power of whether to propose adoption of internet and telephone voting in the hands of the unelected and unaccountable Chief Electoral Officer. To see all the background on our fight in 2010 for stronger accessibility provisions in Ontario's Elections Act, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/default.asp  

After Bill 231 was passed, we asked the Chief Electoral Officer to adopt internet and telephone voting in this 2011 election. We said he had the power to override restrictions in the Elections Act – a general power he himself requested. Regrettably, the chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Greg Essensa, refused our request, incorrectly claiming that he had no authority to do what we asked. For more details, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04082011.asp   

Other jurisdictions have used telephone and internet voting. Cobourg Ontario, for example, used it in 2006 and 2010 for its municipal elections. If it is good enough for Cobourg, it is good enough for all voters in Ontario.

We asked the major parties to make election commitments in this area. Here is what we asked, and what they said:

In our July 15, 2011 letter to the party leaders, we asked the parties to commit to:

"16. Introduce in the Legislature, within two years of taking office, with a view to enacting it, a bill that effectively addresses accessibility needs of voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections.

17. Ensure that the bill will, at a minimum include the substance of the amendments that the opposition parties proposed to Bill 231, with comparable provisions for municipal elections. For example, it will ensure in any provincial general election, by-election, or municipal election in or after 2013, an option for secure telephone or internet voting for voters.

18. Ask the Chief Electoral Officer to complete his study of alternate voting technologies by June 30, 2012 (not June 30, 2013 as the amended Elections Act now requires), and to ensure that his report fully addresses telephone and internet voting.

19. For election barriers not effectively addressed in the amended provincial or municipal elections legislation bring forward an accessible elections action plan by the end of 2012, to make municipal and provincial elections fully accessible to persons with disabilities, after consulting persons with disabilities.

20. Consult with persons with disabilities, including the AODA Alliance, on whether stronger measures are needed to ensure that polling stations are always located in accessible venues.

21. Explore with municipalities and the federal government the sharing of accessible voting equipment, to spread or reduce their cost."

The Liberals committed:

•           "We recognize that there is more to do, and we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible."

The NDP committed:

•           "The Ontario NDP worked closely with the AODA Alliance to bring forward numerous amendments to Bill 231 that would have strengthened its accessibility provisions. We remain committed to these issues and ensuring full accessibility in elections for both voters and candidates. The NDP would be supportive of introducing legislation that implements the substantive issues addressed in our amendments to Bill 231."

The Conservatives made no specific commitments on these. They globally said they look forward to partnering, dialogue, and working with us on the important issues we raised.

The Green Party committed:

•           "The Green Party strongly supports citizen engagement and the democratic process and will work with stakeholders to address accessibility needs for voters in provincial and municipal elections. We would support provisions for electronic (telephone and internet) voting and citizen engagement. We will work with stakeholders to address accessibility needs in provincial and municipal elections.

Our ongoing commitment to accountable government and citizen engagement will provide channels for stakeholders to provide feedback and input into government decisions. We will be happy to consult with all stakeholders on the siting of/access to polling stations and would support efficiencies such as equipment-sharing with the federal and municipal governments.

We are committed to removing all barriers that prevent citizens from being heard, and accessibility barriers are no exception."

We note that the Conservatives have not committed to bring forward the very amendments that they put forward to Bill 231 last year. Last year they proposed those amendments  at our request. To see all the details on what we asked the parties to commit to in this election, and what they promised, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220116.asp  

Below we set out an article in the recent September 26, 2011 edition of the Toronto Star about on-line voting. That article does not refer to the benefits of that technology for voters with disabilities. 

3. MORE MEDIA COVERAGE OF OUR ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES

We are delighted that we have gotten even more media coverage of our election campaign for an accessible Ontario. On Monday, October 3, 2011, AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky was interviewed on Toronto CFRB Radio's Live Drive Show with John Tory. The radio host is the former leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party. To listen to this 7-minute interview, click here: http://www.aodaalliance.org/media/audio/oct%203%202011%20David%20Lepofsky%20with%20john%20tory%20on%20cfrb%20radio.mp3  

Below is a transcript of this interview.

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TEXT OF THE OCTOBER #, 2011 INTERVIEW ON CFRB RADIO NEWSTALK 1010 THE LIVE DRIVE PROGRAM

JOHN TORY:

 You know what I think? People look at politics, whatever issue it is, what they really want to focus on first and foremost is- are the people I elect to provide leadership doing the right thing? I think it's all governments, all levels all parties, you want them to do the right thing. And you understand and you accept the fact that sometimes the right thing can't always be done immediately. Sometimes it can't all be done. In other words, whatever the right thing consists of but at the core you want your representatives to do the right thing.

And I think when it comes to the disabled and support for the disabled, in general surely our moral responsibility to help those most vulnerable people, surely that says we do whatever we can to give them a fair shot at a life like the ones we enjoy -- our lives and a chance to pursue the opportunities that we can pursue, and of course accessibility for the disabled is at the top of that list. I mean, how can we argue that the right thing to do is anything other than ensuring as quickly as is practical that disabled people have the same physical access to hospitals, school, subways, offices, shops, businesses, as a matter of what's right.

But you know if you go beyond that and look at what is practical at what is practical and what makes sense and what is good for business and good for government and good for people, you have a whole bunch of practical reasons why you would deal with the issue as quickly as you could of accessibility for the disabled as well. If you want to be selfish about it think ahead. Demographics and science say there will be a lot more of us with disabilities as each year passes, just because we're getting older. If you want to look at maximizing the use of skills and talents that exist throughout our society, well then you'll want to make sure disabled people who have plenty of important skills are fully occupied. How 'bout incomes. Disabled people able to use better access to achieve their full potential, well they make more money and they pay more taxes as a result. And they buy more things, which is good for business and the economy, and they're less likely to need help from government social programs. So you - how many times have you walked up a wheelchair ramp, because it was easier because it was there. Ever use those elevators in the subway stations, which shamefully are still not present in many stations, but have you ever used one. Does the voice announcement of subway and bus stops not help you from time to time as well, even maybe when you're just daydreaming on the subway?

So I think we've gotta continue to push this forward. I believed this when I was in public life. I supported pushing it forward as quickly as we could, and more quickly than we are if that was at all possible. And of course it's still an issue because the disability accessibility act - it's got some better title than that - doesn't have us fully accessible by law until 2025, which of course is 14 more years from now.

Somebody who's been an unceasing unstinting fighter on behalf of the disabled in this province on this issue is David Lepofsky. He's the chair of the accessibility for Ontarians with disability act alliance - that's a mouthful. But essentially he fights for access for people with disabilities. He joins us now. David how're you doing.

DAVID Lepofsky:

I'm doing great. Thanks for having me on your show.

JOHN TORY:

Pleasure. Thank you for coming on. So where do we stand with this issue in terms of the responses and proposals you've seen from the parties in this campaign.

DAVID Lepofsky:

Well this is the fifth election when my non-partisan coalition has gone to the parties and said: What will you do for us. And we've put forward constructive proposals, and got back their responses and let the public know. This is an unusual election, because we've asked the major parties to promise that in the next term they won't cut the gains we've made up to date, and that they'll commit to specific actions to improve accessibility over the next term of the government. And the liberals the NDP and the Greens have each made commitments explicitly to not to cut gains we've made to improve things. And they've adopted each of them some of the menu of options that we've asked them to commit to. 

The only party that at the start of this election committed to absolutely nothing was the progressive conservative party. Now we've spent the past weeks of the campaign frankly not telling people how to vote we're non-partisan. We don't do that, but instead trying to advocate to the conservatives to come forward and make the commitment we seek, because we thought at the very least they -- when they're threatening to cut thirty percent of all the regulations in Ontario, they should make it clear that that doesn't include the accessibility regulations we've been fighting for, and just recently won.

JOHN TORY:

What's an example of a regulation or some kind of measure that's come in that's helped disabled people and that could be threatened if somebody wanted to take something away.

DAVID Lepofsky:

Well, to the credit of the McGuinty government, last spring they passed an accessibility regulation that requires all subway, all subway and bus stops to be audibly announced. I had to sue the Toronto Transit Commission, not once but twice, so that blind people like me can know what stop we're at.  This standard requires that across the board. 

It requires that over time large private organizations and government organizations have to make sure that their the new information they post on their websites are accessible, so that it's in a format that helps people who are blind or dyslexic, and also by the way helps people who use a smart phone, and have trouble accessing more complex websites. So that's the kind of thing we've won.

Now just to bring things up to speed: After we've been campaigning and campaigning over the past few days, Mister Hudak has been cornered first by Steve Paikin last week, and then by me on another TV show. And he's now admitted, agreed that he commendably that he will not cut the disability act. And he says that any changes to regulations on accessibility will only be to improve them. So at least we've that addresses hopefully the issue of not losing things we've gained.

But he has not made any specific commitments, among those that we've sought, to make things better. Let me give you an example. We've been fighting for accessible voting for people with disabilities.  The McGuinty government brought in a bill a year and a half ago. It had some improvements. We had to fight for those.  Commendably the opposition PCs and NDP offered more of what we were asking for. The liberals wouldn't agree to it.

We'd like the next parliament to turn their mind to that again. And the NDP to their credit said that they would propose the amendments that they introduced last time around. Mister Hudak has not agreed to that yet, and we're urging him to. We're hope he'll see the light before Thursday.

JOHN TORY:

Is that in and of itself the top priority or is there another one?

JOHN TORY:

There's a whole bunch of priorities.

JOHN TORY:

Name one other one that would be something you'd like to see progress on.

DAVID Lepofsky:

I'll give you a great one. We would like the next party in power, whoever it is, to commit that they will not allow government money be used to create any new barriers against us. I mean, taking down the old barriers, that takes time and can involve a cost. But preventing the creation of new barriers--  that's something that any party should be agreeing to.

Again, we're non-partisan. The liberals, to their credit, last summer brought in a ten-year infrastructure plan, that has as a core ingredient. And they promised us in writing that they will extend it, not only to new buildings but to new information technology infrastructure-- that government money can't be used to create new barriers. The NDP has made some commitments in this area again. The greens have that the actually I'm not sure what the greens did on that one. I'd have to check. But the PCs will have not yet made a commitment to us that they will make sure that in the responsible use of public money, they'll ensure it's never used to create new barriers.

JOHN TORY:

Never too late. Three days to go . but we thank you for your continued advocacy on this. and I know you're like a dog with a bone. I know that from personal experience. So if you keep at it I'm sure you'll get the answers you're looking for.

DAVID Lepofsky:

Well thanks so much for having me on.

JOHN TORY:

David Lepofsky chair of the accessibility for Ontarians with disability act alliance and they're a group that's achieved a lot on behalf of disabled people just through dogged determination through election campaigns and other…

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Toronto Star September 26 2011 

Online voting changes the game; Markham experiment begun in 2003 boosts turnout by 35 per cent, study finds

Internet voting in advance polls in Markham has helped increase overall voter turnout, engage non-voters to vote and greatly improve overall voter satisfaction, according to a research and public opinion report to be released Monday.

The report by Delvinia, a digital strategy firm, notes that voter turnout in Markham has increased by 35 per cent since the introduction of Internet voting in 2003, and much of that is attributed to the advent of online voting.

"Offering Internet ballots in advance polls in Markham has permanently transformed advance voter turnout," said Nicole Goodman, a PhD candidate in political science at Carleton University who studied alternative voting methods for the report.

Markham was the first major municipality in Canada to experiment with Internet voting.

Eighty municipal elections in Canada have used Internet voting.

That is the most of any country in the world.

Voter turnout at advanced polls increased by 300 per cent in 2003 and continued to increase through the 2006 and 2010 elections.

Michelle Huycke was among those early online voters in Markham last year.

She was among the 91 per cent of Internet voters who cast their ballot from home and among the 99 per cent who were satisfied with the online voting process.

"I didn't have to find out where I was going to vote, or leave the house or worry about making it to the poll on time," said Huycke, 64. "Plus it's easy and you don't have to wait in line."

The report shows that Internet voting has the ability to lure non-voters into the election process: 25 per cent of online voters in 2003 said they didn't vote in 2000; 21 per cent said the same in 2006 and 9 per cent in 2010. Overall voter turnout in Markham in 2010 was 36 per cent. It was 26.7 per cent in 2003.

The thousands who are now voting earlier have fundamentally changed the way politicians approach elections - they must make an impression as soon as the campaign begins, said Markham's mayor, Frank Scarpitti.

"When I was out canvassing last year, I came across many people who had already voted online," said Scarpitti, who's been Markham's mayor since 2006. "Luckily, they voted for me."

Scarpitti believes this shift to early voting means that successful campaigns will no longer be geared to the big finish on election day.

"It was a real eye-opener for us," Scarpitti said. "But we are so happy with the increased turnout and it's worked out so well for us that it's time to expand this to provincial and federal elections."

Elections Ontario plans to have a pilot Internet voting test in 2012 and must report back to the legislature about alternative voting technologies. Elections Canada will also pursue Internet voting with a trial slated for 2013, likely in a byelection.

But what appeals most to voters is the convenience online voting provides. Huycke said previous trips to vote could take an hour or two, depending on the location of the polling station and the length of lineups.

"It took me five minutes to vote last year," Huycke said. "And I was really impressed by the security."

First, Huycke went online to request to vote through the Internet. Then she received a voter card in the mail with a unique identification number, which she input, along with a password she created, in order to register.

A week later, she received a second voter card in the mail with a new identification number, which she then used, along with her own password and date of birth, to log in to vote.

Then she clicked a few buttons and voted.

-Those aged 45 to 54 are the most likely to make use of Internet voting.

-The average Internet voter has some university education and falls into an income bracket between $55,000 and $84,999.

-Most online voters have access to the Internet at home, use it frequently and have good access.

-Users are more likely to be nonimmigrants and report English as their mother tongue. (There were seven languages to choose from in Markham's online voting system.)

-The rate of use of Internet voting among young people seems to be declining with each election cycle, while it's up among older electors.

-About one-third of people 18 to 24 say they wouldn't have voted had Internet voting not been an option.

-Youngest and oldest online voters are most likely to cite accessibility as their main motivation for voting.

Liam Casey Toronto Star