THUNDER BAY – READERS LEDGER – An organized campaign has been waged since 1999 to make Ontario elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities. As part of this effort, we have advocated for several years for Ontario to provide the option of telephone and internet voting in Ontario elections. These technologies could be very helpful at overcoming serious barriers that voters with disabilities confront when they try to exercise their fundamental right to independently and privately vote.
As the next step in this campaign, the AODA Alliance wrote to Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa on May 14, 2012 to call for Elections Ontario to deploy the options of telephone and internet voting in the upcoming Ontario by-election in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding. That letter is set out below. This by-election was triggered by the resignation of Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer.
We seek these voting options for all voters, not just for voters with disabilities.
May 14, 2012
Mr. Greg Essensa, Chief Electoral Officer Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
facsimile (416) 326-6200
Re: Making Ontario Elections Fully Accessible to All Voters with Disabilities
We are writing to ask whether Elections Ontario will be providing the option of telephone and internet voting in the forthcoming by-election in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding. We urge Elections Ontario to provide an option for telephone and internet voting in this upcoming by-election, and to take all needed steps now to ensure that these will be available.
As a result of the recent resignation of Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer, there will be a by-election in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. As you know, Ontario’s Elections Act gives Elections Ontario authority to use telephone and internet voting in a by-election. As you also know, we have been advocating for several years to have this technology deployed in Ontario elections. We seek it to help make the voting process accessible to voters with disabilities.
Elections Ontario has publicly acknowledged that many voters with disabilities now do not have the opportunity to independently and privately mark their own ballot in private, and to verify their choice. You have recognized that the right to independently mark one’s ballot in private and to verify one’s selection so is fundamentally important for voters.
Telephone and internet voting would overcome many serious barriers to accessible voting for many voters with disabilities. For those who cannot independently and privately mark their own paper ballot and verify their choice due to a disability like blindness or dyslexia, telephone and internet voting can liberate them from the need to ask someone else to mark their ballot for them. If they choose the option of internet voting, they can use their own access technology, if they have it available, to ensure that they can independently and privately exercise their fundamental democratic franchise on their own. For those many voters with mobility disabilities for whom a trip to a polling station can present difficulties (like many seniors), telephone and internet voting lets them easily and quickly vote from the comfort of their home, without having to apply for a mail-in ballot. Mail-in ballots depend on the security and reliability of our postal service.
We seek telephone and internet voting for all voters, not just voters with disabilities. For all voters, including those with no current disability, telephone and internet voting will make it quicker easier to vote, without having to arrange child care, trek to a polling station and possibly wait in long lines.
According to 2010 amendments to Ontario’s Elections Act for which we campaigned long and hard, Elections Ontario has had a duty for the past two years to investigate alternative voting technologies like telephone and internet voting. It must report to the Legislature on these by no later than just over a year from now, by June 30, 2013.
The Elections Act authorizes Elections Ontario to test alternative voting technologies such as telephone and internet voting in a by-election. The
2010 amendments provide that after Elections Ontario tests alternative voting technologies such as telephone and internet voting in a by-election, it can recommend to a Committee of the Legislature that the legislative ban on network-connected voting technologies be lifted. At that point, the Committee of the Legislature is empowered to itself lift that legislative ban. That troubling legislative ban on technology that can overcome serious accessibility barriers that impede voters with disabilities, is itself entirely unjustified. The sooner it is lifted, the better.
The Elections Act, as amended by Bill 231 in 2010, includes several provisions on this topic. Section 4.1 provides:
“Testing voting and vote-counting equipment, alternative voting methods
4.1 (1) At a by-election, the Chief Electoral Officer may direct the use of voting equipment, vote-counting equipment or alternative voting methods that are different from what this Act requires.
(2) The Chief Electoral Officer’s direction shall describe the voting equipment, vote-counting equipment or alternative voting methods in detail and refer to the provisions of this Act that will not be complied with.
(3) No later than 21 days before polling day, the Chief Electoral Officer shall,
(a) provide copies of the direction to the Speaker of the Assembly and to the leader of each registered party; and
(b) publish the direction on a website on the Internet. 2007, c. 15, s. 3.
Validity of election
(4) An election held in accordance with this section is not invalid by reason of any non-compliance with this Act that is authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer’s direction.
Report to Speaker
(5) Within four months after polling day in the election, the Chief Electoral Officer shall,
(a) make a report to the Speaker of the Assembly on the voting equipment, vote-counting equipment or alternative voting methods used at the election; and
(b) make recommendations to the Speaker with respect to amending this Act so as to adopt the voting equipment, vote-counting equipment or alternative voting methods on a permanent basis.”
Section 44.2 provides:
“Use of alternative voting method
44.2 (1) 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.
2. The Chief Electoral Officer is satisfied that the alternative voting method protects the security and integrity of the election to a standard that is equivalent to the protection afforded by section 44.1.
3. The Chief Electoral Officer has consulted, with registered parties, with electors and with experts on the subject of voting methods, about the alternative voting method, the test under section 4.1 and its results.
4. The Chief Electoral Officer has recommended the use of the alternative voting method at the election.
5. The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly or another standing or select committee of the Assembly has held public hearings into the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendation and approved it without modification.
2010, c. 7, s. 25.
(2) The Chief Electoral Officer’s direction shall,
(a) describe the alternative voting method in detail;
(b) refer to the provisions of this Act that will not be complied with, and specify the nature and extent of non-compliance in each case; and
(c) identify the day or days on which the alternative voting method will be available in the election. 2010, c. 7, s. 25.
(3) The Chief Electoral Officer shall,
(a) provide copies of the direction to the leader of each registered party and to every candidate who has been nominated; and
(b) publish the direction on a website on the Internet. 2010, c. 7, s. 25.
(4) At a general election, the alternative voting method shall be made available in every electoral district. 2010, c. 7, s. 25.
(5) When an alternative voting method is used at an election in accordance with this section, the Chief Electoral Officer shall include a report on the matter,
(a) in any report that the Chief Electoral Officer makes with respect to that election; or
(b) in the next annual report made under section 114.3.”
Section 44.3 provides:
“44.3 The Chief Electoral Officer shall conduct a review of alternative voting technologies, prepare a report of the review and, on or before June 30, 2013, submit the report to the Speaker of the Assembly.”
Accordingly, much-needed and long -overdue progress in this area depends on Elections Ontario now agreeing to test out telephone and internet voting in this upcoming Ontario by-election. The forthcoming by-election in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding is the first by-election that will occur in Ontario after Elections Ontario acquired this important mandate.
We let Elections Ontario know by a letter as far back as May 3, 2010 that it was important for Elections Ontario to be prepared to test this technology in the first by-election to occur after Elections Ontario obtained this mandate. Election Ontario’s December 3, 2010 and November 17, 2011 letters to us indicated that Elections Ontario was investigating options for such technologies. Elections Ontario’s December 3, 2010 letter to us specifically committed that you planned to be ready to test this technology in a by-election after January 1, 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.”
As you know, telephone and internet voting has been successfully deployed in Ontario at the municipal level. The municipality of Cobourg, Ontario is a good example. It has also been successfully deployed in jurisdictions outside Ontario.
We ultimately want to ensure that the next Ontario provincial election has telephone and internet voting. With a minority government now in power, the next Ontario general election could well occur well before 2015. In light of the amendments to the Elections Act that we won two years ago, the critical next step to achieve our goal will be Elections Ontario testing out this technology in this upcoming by-election.
It is important for telephone and internet voting to be available throughout the by-election voting period, including on voting day itself. It should not be restricted to advance polling days. It was bizarre and unacceptable from the perspective of voters with disabilities that in the October 2011 Ontario General Election, Ontario spent substantial funds on the recommendation of Elections Ontario to deploy one or two accessible voting machines in each Ontario riding, but only made them available at advance polls, not on election day itself. It was bad enough that in the last Ontario General Election, there were only one or two accessible voting machines for each riding. It was worse that they could not be used on the very day when most voters actually go to the polls.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible about Elections Ontario’s plans. We would appreciate as much detail as possible in your response. As always, we would be pleased to do whatever we can to assist in Elections Ontario’s efforts in this area.
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