ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO
ELECTIONS ONTARIO'S PROGRESS TOWARDS DEPLOYING TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING IS STILL SLOW – ELECTIONS ONTARIO DOESN'T KNOW WHEN OR IF IT WILL BE READY TO TEST THESE IN AN ONTARIO BY-ELECTION, OR EVEN IF IT WILL EVER AGREE TOO TEST THESE
December 7, 2012
The AODA Alliance continues to spearhead a vigorous campaign to get Ontario voters to have access to the option of telephone and internet voting in Ontario elections. Below, we provide the latest in this seemingly never-ending saga.
Here we set out:
* Our December 7, 2012 letter to Elections Ontario. In it we summarize our November 19, 2012 meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer and his senior staff. This was our first face-to-face meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer in almost three years.
In that letter you will see that Elections Ontario has circulated for public comment some preliminary thoughts on telephone and internet voting. While helpful, this material could largely if not totally been made available two years ago.
Our letter summarizes input we provided to Elections Ontario. It also documents that during this meeting, the Chief Electoral Officer stated that he is not now ready to test telephone and internet voting in an Ontario by-election. He does not know when Elections Ontario will be ready to test it. Indeed, he has not yet decided whether he will ever be agreeable to test it. These are all a matter of serious concern. The Ontario Legislature directed Elections Ontario to study these alternative voting options over two and a half years ago. We should have achieved more progress than this after that long period of time.
Our letter also speaks to these topics:
a) Efforts to date towards testing telephone and internet voting in an Ontario by-election.
b) the principles Elections Ontario proposes for telephone and internet voting
c) the option of restricting telephone and internet voting to voters who qualify for a home visit by Elections Ontario.
d) Elections Ontario's broader efforts to date on telephone and internet voting.
e) Our request for Elections Ontario to make an interim report on telephone and internet voting this winter.
f) Experience with the use of accessible voting machines in the 2011 Ontario general election.
g) Our call for Elections Ontario to reconstitute its disbanded disability advisory committee.
h) the need to correct accessibility issues with Elections Ontario's website, and
i) our request for a follow-up meeting with the same Elections Ontario officials in January or February 2013.
* Elections Ontario's October 11, 2012 letter to us, inviting us to take part in its current public consultations on telephone and internet voting.
* The Ontario Human Rights Commission's November 30, 2012 letter to Elections Ontario on telephone and internet voting. We appreciate and endorse the position set out in that letter, particularly its urging that Elections Ontario test telephone and internet voting in the next Ontario by-election.
While it is overdue, we do commend Elections Ontario for now consulting the public on telephone and internet voting. We encourage everyone to give Elections Ontario feedback on the issue of telephone and internet voting. At the very least, you might send them an email endorsing and supporting the positions in our December 7, 2012 letter to Elections Ontario, set out below. You can learn more about Elections Ontario's public consultation on telephone and internet voting by visiting http://www.elections.on.ca/en-CA/Accessibility/alt_voting_tech.htm
For more information on Elections Ontario's activities to address ongoing barriers that impede voters with disabilities in Ontario elections, here are several public resources that have become available:
You can read the reports that each Returning Officer filed with Elections Ontario after the 2011 Ontario general election, on efforts at making voting accessible in each riding, by visiting http://www.elections.on.ca/en-CA/Accessibility/RO_Report_2011.htm
You can download Elections Ontario's major report on the 2011 election, including its report on efforts at making that election fully accessible to voters with disabilities, and the feedback Elections Ontario received from voters with disabilities, by visiting http://www.elections.on.ca/en-CA/Publications.htm
For more background, you can read all about our long campaign to make Ontario elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/ElectionInOntario.asp
This will be our last AODA Alliance Email Update before the new year. Our email service will be off-line until then. If we get any more commitments on accessibility from any candidates for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, we will let you know as soon as we can in the new year.
We wish one and all a happy holiday and a safe and barrier-free new year. And again, a huge thanks to all who have supported our tenacious campaign for a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities.
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AODA ALLIANCE'S DECEMBER 7, 2012 LETTER TO ONTARIO'S CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
December 7, 2012
Mr. Greg Essensa, Chief Electoral Officer
51 Rolark Drive
facsimile (416) 326-6200
Re: Promoting Accessible Voting for Voters with Disabilities by Implementing Telephone and Internet Voting in Ontario Elections
Thank you for inviting us to the November 19, 2012 face-to-face meeting with you and your senior staff. We welcomed the opportunity to give Elections Ontario our feedback on your progress to date on exploring the options of telephone and internet voting in Ontario provincial elections (network voting). In this letter, we summarize and build upon some key points in the feedback we gave you at that meeting.
TESTING TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING IN AN ONTARIO BY-ELECTION
As Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer, you have the sole legal authority under the Elections Act to authorize testing of telephone and/or internet voting in an Ontario by-election. If you do not authorize it, it cannot happen. A by-election test is required under the Elections Act before a Committee of the Legislature can lift the current legislative ban on the use of this accessible voting technology in a general Ontario election.
Elections Ontario had earlier committed in writing to us to be ready to test this technology in a by-election in 2012. However, earlier this year, you decided not to test it in either of the two 2012 Ontario by-elections that were held earlier this year, because you were not yet ready.
At our November 19, 2012 meeting, you indicated that you are still not ready to test telephone and internet voting in an Ontario by-election. Even more troubling, you told us that that you have made no final determination on whether or not you will ever pilot telephone and/or internet voting in an Ontario by-election. You said that you are still gathering input which you will take into account in deciding whether you will pilot these options. At our meeting, you told us that you do not now know when you would be ready to test it. We thank you for agreeing at our meeting to let us know if you reach a point when you believe you are willing to test telephone and/or internet voting, whether or not that is before, during or after you file your report on this topic with the Legislature required under the Elections Act.
We are deeply concerned about this ongoing delay in testing this technology in a by-election. It is now a full two and a half years after the Legislature amended the Elections Act to allow for such testing that could start in 2012. We endorse the Ontario Human Rights Commission's recommendation to Elections Ontario, set out in its November 30, 2012 letter to you, as follows: "The OHRC encourages Elections Ontario to pilot these forms of remote voting technology as soon as possible, ideally at the next by-election." We think that two and a half years is ample time for Elections Ontario to make itself ready to test this accessible voting technology, which has been successfully used in some Ontario municipalities and elsewhere. The fact that you still do not yet even know when or if you will ever be ready to test it, and may never decide to test it, makes it clear to us that voters with disabilities still have a long wait ahead of them.
We again asked at the November 19, 2012 meeting why Elections Ontario called off the RFP ("request for proposal") it issued over a year ago. That RFP was to find and retain a firm to assist in conducting a test pilot of telephone and internet voting during a by-election in 2012.
You told us that the RFP process was designed to help Elections Ontario understand the complexity of running network voting. With respect, that makes very little sense to us.
An RFP is issued by an organization that actually intends to do something. It requests organizations to make proposals or bids on the project. An RFP is an invitation to companies to do business with Elections Ontario. It burdens private organizations with the work involved in preparing good faith bids. Elections Ontario could learn about the complexities of conducting telephone and internet voting without doing an RFP.
You said that a number of companies put in bids and that Elections Ontario landed on one. You told us that it became apparent that the complexity was "substantive." You said you were not prepared to conduct a pilot due to that "complexity."
We asked what the complexity concerned, and whether it related to security. You said it concerned complexity regarding security, regarding authentication and regarding the risk to Elections Ontario. You said it also related to the amount of staff effort that Elections Ontario would have to devote to this project, taking them away from other parts of Elections Ontario's work.
You told us that it wasn't that Elections Ontario cannot do it, but that given the minority government, the "risk to all Ontarians was substantive." You said the risk was higher than you were comfortable with. You said there were other factors that pertain to the ability of Elections Ontario to do this.
We responded that the complexities of telephone and internet voting are not going to go away. We are eager to know when they will be fixed. We also noted that despite those complexities, Ontario municipalities like Cobourg have used these voting options and appear to be continuing to do so.
You told us that Elections Ontario held a "municipal summit" to get input from municipalities in Ontario who have used telephone and/or internet voting in municipal elections. We asked what you learned from this. You simply said that one of the overriding messages you received is not to underestimate the complexity of operating this voting option.
On reflection, we believe that it is not sufficient for Elections Ontario to simply keep invoking the non-specific refrain that telephone and internet voting is "complex" and that there are "risks." This was known when the Legislature enacted the recent amendments on this topic in the Elections Act. Operating an election is complex and has risks. We, voters with disabilities, and indeed all the public deserve to know specifically and in detail what risks and complexities have been addressed, and which ones remain outstanding. We deserve to know why telephone and internet voting can successfully work in Cobourg and Markham, Ontario for municipal elections, while voters in those same communities cannot be allowed to bear the same complexities and risks during an Ontario election. What exactly did you learn during the RFP process that you did not know before it, that led you to decide not to proceed with a test in 2012?
Beyond the foregoing, we understand that you face a practical problem when trying to test telephone and internet voting in a by-election. By-elections are typically called at the last minute. Elections Ontario is not necessarily given prior notice about them before they are called. To get around that problem, we therefore asked you at our meeting to explore other ways to test internet and/or telephone voting, other than at a by-election. Even if an alternative avenue for testing telephone and internet voting would not meet the Elections Act's precondition for lifting the ban on these accessible voting technologies, it could help you break this ongoing log-jam. You agreed to consider this.
While we would prefer not to wait to 2014 for this technology to be tested, one avenue for Elections Ontario to test it could be during the next municipal elections. Some Ontario municipalities have already successfully used these options for voting at the municipal level, and expect to do so again in 2014. Elections Ontario could monitor that to gather all the information it needs. A second option would be for Elections Ontario to stage a fictional by-election at a date that Elections Ontario chooses, and to invite the public to use telephone and internet voting, to see how it works. A third option is to offer these voting options in one or more ridings in a general election, if one occurs in 2013, for example, but not as an actual way to cast one's vote. It would instead be a test, to run in parallel to the actual vote. By that option, anyone who takes part in the pilot must still cast a vote using existing avenues under the Elections Act at their polling station, at an advance poll, or by mail-in ballot.
By any and all of these options for testing telephone and internet voting, there would be no threat to the actual security of the vote in an Ontario election. There must be other ways beyond these three options, to test it. We welcome a response from you on what options you explore and what conclusions you reach.
THE PRINCIPLES FOR TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING
As we discussed, we only had the opportunity to review your thorough summary of the Business Case, and not the entire Business Case itself. Based on that review and your explanation at our meeting, we told you that we are content with the general principles regarding telephone and internet voting, subject to four important points. We here summarize our response to these that we gave at our meeting.
First, your Business Case raises a concern that telephone or internet voting might open the door to voters being coerced to vote for someone they don't want to vote for, since the vote via telephone or internet voting is not cast at a polling station. Of course, we would not want any voter to be coerced to vote for a candidate for whom they don't want to vote. However, this is no reason not to proceed with telephone and internet voting.
There are already clear and manifest existing risks for coerced voting in the Elections Act. The Elections Act allows for mail-in ballots. Any voter can send in a mail-in ballot, which the Act calls a special ballot. There is nothing to stop someone from coercing a voter at home regarding their vote. Similarly, the Elections Act allows voters with disabilities who cannot mark their own ballot to go to a polling station and have a friend mark their ballot. This exposes voters with disabilities who use that voting option to coercion by their friend who marks their ballot.
There is no way in either case for Elections Ontario to police this. The only way to prevent voter coercion in either of those instances is to simply allow for only one avenue to vote, namely marking one's own ballot unassisted at the polling station, and dropping it in the box. That would create serious barriers to voters with disabilities.
Ontario already tolerates the existing risk of voter coercion. There is no reason to preclude telephone or internet voting because that same risk also exists in the context of telephone and internet voting.
Second, your Business Case voices a concern that telephone voting may be more exposed to risk of disruption because it would use an "IVR" system. IVR, or Interactive Voice Response, is the system we all often experience. It exists where one calls an organization, and must press keys on the phone to select options or to choose an extension.
At our meeting we pointed out that many major financial institutions like banks and credit card companies have secure IVR systems. These let a member of the public make major financial transactions over the phone at any time of the day or night. They use simple password protections.
We suggested at our meeting that you should explore the measures that those organizations use to protect IVR systems from being hacked or disrupted. Those organizations would be an obvious source of expertise and experience. Hackers would likely wish to steal a bank account well before they would want to steal a vote. Moreover, those organizations' IVR systems operate 24/7 all year, and not just during the short window of an election campaign.
We understood from our meeting that you will look into this. We are eager to hear back from you whether that investigation adequately addresses this concern.
Third, your Business Case contemplates that if telephone and internet voting were deployed in Ontario, it would be available up to voting day, but not on voting day itself. This is due to your current inability to alert each polling station on voting day to any changes to the voting list. We were quite surprised to learn that Elections Ontario does not have each polling station networked on polling day to enable real time updates to the voters' list or other important alerts on that critical day.
We understand that because of this situation, on voting day, if a voter were to vote by phone or on the web, they could still walk into their local polling station and vote for a second time by hard copy ballot. You must prevent such double voting.
We would be disappointed if voters with disabilities who need telephone or internet voting could not have the option of voting on voting day itself, like all other voters. However, if Elections Ontario were to deploy telephone and internet voting for the entire campaign up to the night before voting day, but not on voting day itself, this would still be a very major and substantial improvement for voters with disabilities. If Elections Ontario later acquires the ability to make real time changes to the voters' list on voting day, it would be desirable to extend telephone and internet voting to voting day itself. Voters with disabilities, like all other voters, should be able to hold off voting until they have seen the entire campaign, including any late-breaking developments on the eve of voting day.
One option, not a perfect solution but an improvement, would be to allow on voting day for a voter to come to a polling station, to register to vote there, and then to use their own cell phone to vote either by phone or on line. That would enable Elections Ontario to ensure that there is no double voting. That option has the limitation of not accommodating voters who do not have an accessible cell phone or smart phone. However it is better than a flat ban on telephone and internet voting on voting day.
Fourth, your business case indicates that telephone or internet voting would only be available to those who are already on the preliminary voters' list. We were concerned about this restriction. We asked you to clarify when that list is set.
We told you that this restriction would only be acceptable if Elections Ontario took several important steps. It would have to make publicly available a way for voters to check to see if they are on the preliminary voting list, and to get themselves added to that list if they are not. This must be available to all voters sufficiently far in advance of the next election. That opportunity would have to be widely publicized well in advance. Voters would have to be told that they must ensure that they are on that list if they want to vote by phone or web. The process for checking to see if one is on the preliminary voting list, and to get added to it, must be easy and convenient. These steps are especially important if there is a minority government with a risk of an election call at any time.
Beyond these four points, we added at our meeting that telephone and internet voting can have a huge advantage for voters who do not speak French or English. Both the phone system and the website could give options for switching to other languages. This could help meet the needs of many in Ontario's ethno-culturally diverse society.
RESTRICTING TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING TO VOTERS WHO QUALIFY FOR A HOME VISIT
During our meeting, you asked us to comment on the option of making telephone and internet voting only available to voters who would qualify under the Elections Act for a home visit by Elections Ontario to assist with a mail-in ballot. We explained that this would be far too restrictive.
Such a restriction would leave out many voters with disabilities who could benefit from this voting option. It would deny voters without disabilities the opportunity for telephone and internet voting. We believe many voters without disabilities would welcome the option of telephone and internet voting. Moreover, such a restriction would unnecessarily add to the cost of the election process. It risks Elections Ontario making inaccurate and inconsistent judgements in different cases around Ontario.
ELECTIONS ONTARIO'S EFFORTS TO DATE ON TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING
We appreciate the research that Elections Ontario has conducted over the past two and a half years since the Legislature directed it to conduct this investigation. However, we remain very concerned about the very slow pace of progress. The information that Elections Ontario has presented to us in the summary of its Business Case, could largely have been gathered and made public two years ago.
We were surprised when you stated at the meeting that there has been no on-line voting in the U.S. We advised you that it was our understanding that Honolulu had used telephone and internet voting at the municipal level. This can easily be found by a quick Google search on the terms "Honolulu" and "internet voting." The telephone and internet voting system used in Honolulu may have been provided by the Everyone Counts organization. It is our understanding that Elections Ontario met with that organization back in the fall of 2010, after the Honolulu 2009 election when telephone and internet voting was apparently deployed.
REQUEST FOR ELECTIONS ONTARIO TO MAKE AN INTERIM REPORT ON TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING THIS WINTER
At our meeting, we noted that your final report on telephone and internet voting must be delivered to the Legislature no later than June 30, 2013. We have been urging Elections Ontario for over two years to get that report delivered well before that end date. The Elections Act does not require Elections Ontario to wait until June 30, 2013 to deliver this report.
At our meeting, we noted that a spring election is a real possibility in Ontario. There may not be a sitting Legislature to receive your report on June 30, 2013. We asked if Elections Ontario could release an interim report in February 2013, in the event that your final report is then not ready. Voters deserve to know as much as possible about the state of your work, and about any final or tentative conclusions you have reached, at that time. Whether that interim report is formally delivered to the Legislature or is simply posted on your website, voters with disabilities and all voters would be able to learn where you stand at that time on this issue.
USE OF ACCESSIBLE VOTING MACHINES IN THE 2011 ONTARIO GENERAL ELECTION
In the 2010 revisions to the Elections Act, the Government's major move to accommodate voters with disabilities who cannot mark their own ballot was to deploy at least one accessible electronic voting machine per riding. This was adopted at Elections Ontario's recommendation.
Elections Ontario's recent report on the 2011 election states that 144 of those machines were deployed across Ontario. Yet only 166 voters actually used them. This conclusively shows that existing measures regarding those machines in the Elections Act are entirely inadequate to remove barriers facing voters with disabilities. In 2010, we had warned that there was a risk that few voters would use them.
At our meeting, we asked you to follow up by sending us as much detail as you can about the problems that were reported to Elections Ontario about the use of those machines. This information is not clear from Elections Ontario's report on the 2011 election. We appreciate your agreeing to send us that information. We would also like to know how much it cost to acquire and deploy these machines in the 2011 election.
RECONSTITUTING ELECTIONS ONTARIO'S DISBANDED DISABILITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
We recommended at this meeting that you reconstitute your recently-disbanded disability advisory committee. Elections Ontario only formed that committee in 2010. You confirmed that that committee was very helpful and constructive. We confirmed that its work is not yet finished.
ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES WITH ELECTIONS ONTARIO'S WEBSITE
We alerted you at this meeting that there are some accessibility problems with the Elections Ontario website. We asked you to look into this. For example, if you post anything in PDF, it should always also be posted in HTML or MS Word format.
REQUEST FOR FOLLOW-UP MEETING IN JANUARY OR FEBRUARY 2013
At this meeting, we asked for a further meeting with you in January or February 2013 after you have gathered most or all of your input on telephone and internet voting. We would welcome this to have a further discussion before you finalize your positions.
We thank you for giving us in advance a copy of Elections Ontario's "Network Voting Business Case" paper that Elections Ontario has produced in an accessible MS Word format.
At our November 19, 2012 meeting, we asked you to withdraw your request that we not post this accessible document on our website. We appreciate Elections Ontario's willingness to give that document out to anyone who requests it in accessible format. We understand that you wish to track this document's distribution. However, we could easily obtain it under the Freedom of Information Act. If we had to take that step, we would be free to post it on our website and distribute it as we see fit. You agreed to let us know. Please do.
At our meeting, we asked you to send us the text of your 30-minute presentation to us at this meeting on internet and telephone voting in an accessible MS Word format. We want to make it public on our website.
We look forward to hearing back from you on the matters raised in this letter and again thank you for the helpful meeting on November 19, 2012.
David Lepofsky, CM, O. Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, fax 416-325-9895, email firstname.lastname@example.org
John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-3347, email email@example.com
Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-5240, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
Andrea Horwath, Third Party Leader, fax (416) 325-8222, email firstname.lastname@example.org
OCTOBER 11 2012 LETTER FROM CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER TO THE AODA ALLIANCE
Chief Electoral Officer
51 Rolark Drive
October 11, 2012
Mr. David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Dear Mr. Lepofsky,
Thank you for your letter of September 10, 2012. In that letter, you asked us for more information about steps we have taken or plan to take with respect to internet and telephone voting. You also asked for reports and information regarding returning officer accessibility reports, the public opinion survey we conducted after the 2011 Provincial General Election, and Assistive Voting Technology. Finally, you asked for an early face-to-face meeting with us.
I am pleased to extend a meeting invitation to you. As Ms Wells indicated in her letter to you of September 5, 2012, we plan to meet with key stakeholder groups this Fall, including the AODA Alliance, to discuss our review of alternative voting technologies. In addition, we will be launching a broader public consultation later this month.
Later this month we will be able to share a document that outlines the results of our research regarding alternative voting technologies. As it is a lengthy and somewhat technical document, we want to ensure you have sufficient time to review it before we meet to discuss it. Depending on your schedule, I can meet with you on one of the following dates: November 19, November 26 or November 28 of 2012. You may have additional issues you wish to discuss at that time, but we hope you will be able to provide us with the feedback we are seeking on questions that are critical for our review.
With respect to the other information, reports and summaries you requested, those will be included in reports that we are required under the Election Act to submit to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. We are not in a position to provide you with advance copies, but will make those public once we have tabled the necessary reports. As indicated in earlier correspondence, we plan to table our report on the 2011 Provincial General Election later this Fall.
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the role of Ms. Loren Wells at Elections Ontario. Ms. Wells has been appointed as the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The Deputy Chief Electoral Officer is an officer of the Legislative Assembly, as am I. Among other things, in the event of my absence or illness, Ms. Wells acts in my place and has the same powers and performs the same duties as me. At present, Ms. Wells is also the executive sponsor on all accessibility issues at Elections Ontario. As such, Ms. Wells is in an excellent position to be your primary contact at Elections Ontario on accessibility matters.
I would also like to clarify that we did not reject your proposals for making Assistive Voting Technology available in more locations and on more days during the recent by-elections. Instead, we have sought to convey our analysis that I do not believe I have the discretion you suggested to override the Election Act.
Staff from my office will be in touch with you to arrange a convenient time and location for our meeting. We will follow up with a copy of our research document. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss our review of alternative voting technologies.
Chief Electoral Officer
cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier email@example.com
Tim Hudak, Leader, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Horwath, Leader, New Democratic Party of Ontario email@example.com
Hon. John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services firstname.lastname@example.org
Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services email@example.com
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate Ellen.Waxman@ontario.ca
NOVEMBER 30, 2012 LETTER FROM THE ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION TO ELECTIONS ONTARIO
Office of the Chief Commissioner
180 Dundas Street West, 8th Floor
Toronto ON M7A 2R9
Tel.: (416) 314-4537
Fax.: (416) 314-7752
November 30, 2012
Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Toronto, ON M1R 3B1
Dear Mr. Essensa,
Thank you for the opportunity to meet earlier this month regarding Elections Ontario’s review and public consultation on alternative voting methods involving internet and telephone voting technologies.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission supports these forms of accessible voting as well as the eight electoral principles identified by Elections Ontario: accessibility, one vote per voter, vote authentication and authorization, only count votes from valid voters, individual verifiability, voter privacy, results validation and service availability.
The electoral principle of “accessibility” recognizes that persons with disabilities should be able to vote without assistance. This principle should also include the human rights principles of inclusive design, respect for dignity and accommodation of individual need. Inclusive design means the ideal goal should be as many people as possible, with and without disabilities, are able to use the same voting technology and procedures (on-site or remotely), recognizing that some people with disabilities may still need a different accommodation.
The other electoral principles also have implications for persons with disabilities. Voting mechanisms and procedures must allow voters with disabilities to verify their vote selection themselves in privacy. Persons with disabilities should also have access to the same service availability and convenience as others voters. They should be able to vote using accessible equipment on voting day, not just at advance polls. Ideally, persons with disabilities would be able to use remote voting technology on voting day as well.
The OHRC is concerned that provisions of the Election Act appear to limit use of on-site accessible voting equipment to the advance poll period, prohibiting their use on polling day. The OHRC recommends that the government review this restriction in light of the Human Rights Code.
Procedures for authenticating identity and authorizing people to vote, on-site and remotely, should also be inclusively designed and accessible as much as possible. For example: authentication and authorization procedures that would rely only on a paper-based postal registration process can cause barriers for persons with vision loss, learning and other types of disabilities.
Elections Ontario should explore whether on-site voting equipment and technology falls within the meaning of “self-service kiosks” and related obligations under section 6 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Keep in mind, the website interface for internet voting must be designed inclusively and meet international website accessibility standards in accordance with obligations under section 14 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.
Elections Ontario should also consider whether the level of risk associated with upholding each electoral principle is balanced across the principles; whether it is comparable across different modes of voting and for voters with and without disabilities, and, whether risks can be reduced such as by auditing for breach of principles after the fact.
The OHRC encourages Elections Ontario to pilot these forms of remote voting technology as soon as possible, ideally at the next by-election. The OHRC further recommends that Elections Ontario conduct a post pilot survey of both electors with and without disabilities regarding their experiences and any barriers they faced using the alternative technology.
Recognizing that section 44.2 (1).1 of the Election Act limits Elections Ontario’s discretion to pilot alternative voting methods only during a by-election, the OHRC recommends that the government review this restriction given that more than two years have passed since these amendments were passed under Bill 231, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act 2010; that by-elections are few and far between and often unforeseeable; and, that piloting of alternative voting methods during a general election might be managed by restricting piloting to a specific riding or ridings of sufficient size and representation of persons with disabilities, among other considerations.
With the principle of inclusive design in mind, Elections Ontario might consider whether in the long run remote network voting technology could eventually be used concurrently or even replace current on-site mechanisms at polling stations, with the goal of giving all voters universally accessible options.
Beyond voting, the OHRC is also concerned about accessibility barriers that electors, nomination seekers and candidates with disabilities face at all stages of our electoral process. This includes inaccessible facilities, meetings, debates and information during nomination and campaign periods. While outside the scope of Elections Ontario’s current consultation, these barriers may intersect with Elections Ontario’s mandate regarding election expenses, financial, registration and procedural reporting, as well as public information and policy advice.
Finally, the OHRC recommends that Elections Ontario reconstitute its accessibility advisory committee with terms of reference for discussing a broad range of intersecting issues going forward. In addition, Elections Ontario might consider participating in any other forums discussing implications of the Human Rights Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its related regulations for Ontario’s electoral process.
The OHRC looks forward to reviewing Elections Ontario’s final report that it will submit to the Speaker of the Assembly by June 30, 2013.
Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in your consultation. If you require more information or have further questions, feel free to contact myself or my staff.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Copy Hon. Dave Levac, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Peter Wallace, Secretary of the Cabinet
Hon. John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services
Hon. John Gerretsen, Attorney General of Ontario
David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Tony Dolan, Chair, Council of Canadians with Disabilities
1 Section 41.1 (3) of the Election Act states, “The accessible voting equipment and related vote counting equipment shall be made available in returning offices during the period that begins on the first day of advance polls and ends on the day before polling day, …:
2 Section 44.2 (1).1 of the Election Act states, “At an election, if the following conditions are satisfied, the Chief Electoral Officer may direct that an alternative voting method, which may be an electronic voting method, be used: 1. The alternative voting method has been tested by being used at a by-election under section 4.1 and a report has been made to the Speaker of the Assembly under that section.