ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

AODA ALLIANCE ASKS CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER FOR PROGRESS REPORT ON INTERNET AND TELEPHONE VOTING

October 28, 2011

SUMMARY

1. Swinging Into Action with Ontario's New Legislature

A major priority for us in the new Ontario Legislature is to get Ontario's elections legislation strengthened to ensure fully accessible elections for voters and candidates with disabilities. We foreshadowed this on the eve of Election Day earlier this month. Visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10042011.asp

We have a good crack at this, in the new minority government situation in the Ontario Legislature, since:

* The NDP promised us in the recent election to introduce amendments to strengthen accessibility requirements in Ontario's election legislation;

* The Liberals promised to continue to work with us on accessibility of municipal and provincial elections; and

* The Conservatives, like the NDP, supported stronger measures for election accessibility for persons with disabilities last year, during public debates over Bill 231.

To get the ball rolling, we have written to Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Greg Essensa, to get an update on important information that will help us, the Legislature, and the public address this issue. We set out that letter below.

2. Tomorrow Is An Important Anniversary in the History Of Our Accessibility Campaign

Tomorrow, October 29, 2011 is an important date in the history of our combined efforts to win a fully accessible Ontario for all persons with disabilities.

Fully 13 years ago, on October 29, 1998, our disability community got the Ontario Legislature to unanimously pass a resolution endorsing the 11 principles that a strong and effective Disabilities Act needed to include.

Introduced into the Legislature that day by then Opposition MPP Dwight Duncan (now Ontario's Finance Minister), that resolution has served ever since as the yardstick by which we measure legislation and regulations enacted to achieve progress towards a fully accessible Ontario. It was our own disability community, spearheaded by the AODA Alliance's predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee that designed those 11 principles and advocated for the Legislature to adopt them.

To read that landmark resolution, visit:

http://www.odacommittee.net/ODA_Brief_Part3_App5.html

To read the debates in the Ontario Legislature that day leading to the passage of this resolution, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net/hansard18.html

To read how then Opposition Leader Dalton McGuinty pressed the Conservative Government that day to abide by this resolution, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net/hansard19.html

We welcome your feedback as always. Write us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

*****

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

New Email Address: aodafeedback@gmail.com

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

 

October 28, 2011

 

Mr. Greg Essensa, Chief Electoral Officer

Elections Ontario

51 Rolark Drive

Scarborough, Ontario

M1R 3B1

(416) 326-6200

Email: greg.essensa@elections.on.ca

 

Dear Sir,

 

Re: Accessibility of Elections to Voters with Disabilities

 

We seek your prompt assistance to help us ensure that future elections in Ontario are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. It is our intention to ask the Ontario Legislature to amend Ontario's election legislation to ensure full accessibility of elections to persons with disabilities. We will, among other things, ask the Legislature to re-visit the option of internet and telephone voting. We want to ensure that this option is in place for voters with disabilities, and indeed for all voters, before the next Ontario general election.

Ontario now has a minority government. Therefore, the next general election could be well before 2015. Because the timing of the next election is uncertain, we want the implementation of internet and telephone voting to be assured for the next election.

The last time the Legislature considered this issue was in the spring of 2010, when Bill 231 was debated. Bill 231 was the McGuinty Government's proposal to modernize Ontario elections. Despite our efforts, and the commendable proposals of both opposition parties, only weak and limited amendments were added to that bill regarding internet and telephone voting. As of now, Bill 231:

* bans internet and telephone voting in Ontario elections, as well as any other adaptive voting technology that is connected to a network.

* requires you and Elections Ontario to study alternative voting technology (which can include internet and telephone voting), and to report your findings by June 2013, over a year and a half from now.

* lets you and Elections Ontario test alternative voting technologies such as internet and telephone voting in an upcoming by-election.

* lets you recommend to the Legislature that the ban on internet and telephone voting be lifted. If you recommend this, a Committee of the Legislature can hold hearings and then adopt your recommendation.

We have publicly voiced our concern that those amendments did not go far enough. They give Elections Ontario far too long to study options like internet and telephone voting. They leave in place, in the meantime, a complete ban on access technology that has been successfully used by some Ontario municipalities in municipal elections.

Under Bill 231, Ontarians may never get a chance to use internet and telephone voting in an Ontario election. You might decide never to recommend it to the Legislature. If you do recommend it, this might come too late for the next Ontario election, especially if the current minority government falls before the steps in Bill 231 are completed.

During debates over Bill 231, the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats each proposed commendable amendments that were more helpful on this issue. In the recent Ontario election, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath promised us the following in her August 24, 2011 letter to us:

"TheOntario 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."

We believe that internet and telephone voting should be available to all voters, not just voters with disabilities. These voting options would help respond to the growing problem of low voter turnout, which was a matter of special concern in the recent Ontario election.

We are therefore writing to ask you to accelerate Elections Ontario's work on internet and telephone voting. We also ask for a detailed update on what Elections Ontario has done since the enactment of Bill 231 on the topic of alternative voting technologies and options for voters with disabilities.

It would assist us, the Legislature, and the Ontario public, if you could provide answers to these questions:

1. What has Elections Ontario done so far to investigate alternative voting technologies such as internet and telephone voting? With whom have you consulted? Has your work included consultation with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, as we recommended in our May 3, 2010 letter to you?

2. How quickly can you complete your study of these new voting options? Bill 231 gives Elections Ontario up to June 30, 2013 to complete this study. One and a half years ago, in our May 3, 2010 letter to you, we asked you to finish this work much sooner. We do not believe that Elections Ontario required three years to explore these options. We shared the view, voiced by Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara, during the April 21, 2010 clause-by-clause debates on Bill 231 that: “…as a practical matter, one would expect that the Chief Electoral Officer will be reporting to Parliament much before the date set out here, which is the final date…”

Moreover, in an interview you did on TVOntario's The Agenda with Steve Paikin well before Bill 231 was passed, you indicated that you were then chairing an inter-provincial task force of elections officials like yourself that explored options like internet voting.

3. Is Elections Ontario now fully prepared and willing to test internet and telephone voting when the next by-election is called? It is important for Elections Ontario to be ready to act on short notice. By-elections can be called on short notice.

4. In this past Ontario general election, on the recommendation of Elections Ontario 144 accessible voting machines were deployed across Ontario for voters with disabilities, for use in Returning Offices and Satellite Returning Offices on pre-election voting days such as advance polls.

As a blind person, I myself encountered some problems with the machine's audio instructions for verifying my vote. Fortunately I was able to eventually complete the task. I have an instance of feedback indicating other problems with the machine. We have no idea how widespread this may have been.

Could you please let us know:

a) How many voters used the accessible voting machines?

b) What problems if any were reported by voters or Elections Ontario officials?

c) What other information did Elections Ontario have on possible defects or problems with this voting technology, and when did Elections Ontario learn of any problems?

d) What steps did Elections Ontario take to correct any reported problems with the accessible voting machines.

5. To many, it seems bizarre and unjustified that the accessible voting machines, purchased with $875,000 of the taxpayers' money on the advice of Elections Ontario, were not available to voters with disabilities on Election Day itself. Election Day is the very day when most voters cast their ballots.

Was this restriction on the use of these machines on Election Day instituted on the advice of Elections Ontario? Why was use of this accessible voting technology forbidden on the very day when it was needed the most? What options did Elections Ontario consider for enabling the deployment of these accessible voting machines on Election Day, short of banning them?

6. Elections Ontario told us that the 144 accessible voting machines cost about $875,000 including acquisition of the machines and training for their use. This is dramatically less than the $10,000 to $15,000 per machine plus training that the Government claimed they would cost, during the 2010 legislative debates over Bill 231. Elections Ontario had the lead in investigating and testing these machines on the Government's behalf. It would seem likely that the Government got its cost figures from Elections Ontario during the Bill 231 debates.

Can you explain the dramatic difference in price for these machines and training on them, as compared to figures used in the 2010 legislative debates over Bill 231?

7. What options have you explored for testing internet and telephone voting, other than doing so in a by-election? The next by-election may be months or years away. Under Bill 231, Elections Ontario must test any new voting technology like internet and telephone voting in a by-election before you can recommend that a Committee of the Legislature lift the ban on these access technologies. If the Legislature forces the next Ontario general election before you have had a chance to test internet and telephone voting in a by-election, we will remain barred for yet another provincial election from this important means for ensuring fully accessible voting for voters with disabilities.

We would appreciate your detailed answers to all of these questions as soon as possible. If Ontario election legislation is to be amended to ensure truly accessible voting for voters with disabilities in the next general election, we must immediately get to work on that legislation.

We look forward to hearing from you and would welcome the opportunity to work together with you on this next phase of election legislation reform.

 

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

Hon. John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-5191, 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 Lewis, Director, Democratic Institutions Policy, email tim.lewis@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