You are here:

Submission to the Citizens Assembly of Ontario

Date: 
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It is often stated that casting one's vote is the most important act a citizen performs in any democracy. However, participating fully in the political process involves far more than simply casting one's vote. All citizens must be able to participate fully in all aspects of the political process, and that includes being fully informed of issues and being able to cast an informed vote independently and in secret.

There remain a number of barriers in the political process that make full participation difficult if not impossible for many persons who have a disability, including we who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

Background to the AEBC

Founded in 1992, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada (AEBC) is a national, not-for-profit consumer organization "of" individuals who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, who have come together to work collaboratively to improve our overall quality of life and to achieve the promise of the International Year of the Disabled Person 1981 "... full participation and equality".

Part of this work involves providing comments on Policies that directly affect the lives of individuals who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, and few issues are more fundamental than the right and opportunity to participate fully in the political process.

Accessible Information

In order to be able to cast an informed vote, citizens must have access to information on the issues and the process. For persons who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted, this means having access to fully accessible meetings and to material in multiple formats - Braille, audio cassette, computer disk and in text (not PDF) versions through the Citizens Ontario website.

The Ballot

In Ontario provincial elections, we have been casting our vote for one representative per constituency. When Ontarians vote in October, 2007, we will still be voting for one rep per constituency, and if the Assembly puts a question, what will the ballot look like? Will there be one ballot containing both items? Will there be two separate ballots? And in what format will we be casting our votes?

Alternative Methods of Voting

At present, elections in Ontario are conducted using a notched paper ballot. For us, this has meant having to mark our choice by lining up the pencil/pen with the correct notch on the ballot. There are three problems associated with this method: first of all, since there is rarely an alternate format list of candidates available (i.e.: Braille or large print), we must first hope we remember the order in which the list is read to us. Then, guided by the little notch on the right edge of the ballot, we have to find the correct place to mark our choice. And finally, we cannot ourselves verify the accuracy of our own vote.

Therefore, the fact that other jurisdictions are beginning to use other, more inclusive methods, such as electronic voting machines, voting over the telephone and via the internet, is very encouraging. At a time when Ontarians may be deciding on a new system of electing MPPs, we believe it is also appropriate to consider offering Ontarians an alternative method of voting that will be more inclusive.

A number of manufacturers now produce electronic voting machines. Some enable the elector to vote electronically and, at the same time, use the same paper ballot as electors who choose not to use the machine. Others offer only an electronic option.

The AEBC believes Ontario should conduct a test of currently available electronic options, by inviting manufacturers to submit one of their machines and assemble focus groups to test all of them, using a predetermined set of detailed questions.

These tests should be conducted by a diverse group of consumers with disabilities, in order to determine which electronic machine is the easiest to use by people with the widest array of disabilities.

Once the machine is chosen, it will be just as important to train the polling station staff as to its use, as lack of knowledge can pose just as great a barrier as lack of access.

Conclusion

If casting one's vote is indeed the most important act a citizen performs in any democracy, then it is time for the process to become more inclusive for all citizens. Everyone must be able to vote in secret and with confidence if we are to truly prepare our province for the future. The members of the AEBC look forward to the day when we can exercise our democratic rights freely, with confidence and dignity.

ZZ - Disregard this link; it is used to trick spammers.