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Making Canada's Voting System Truly Accessible

Date: 
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Introduction

Most Canadians take for granted the opportunity to participate fully in Canada's political process. This includes seeking nomination as a candidate, participating in candidates meetings during elections, informing oneself about party platforms and positions, voting in secret, and being able to independently verify how one voted . However, Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted continue to encounter barriers to full participation in Canada's electoral process, and these obstacles must be removed.

While numerous obstacles to the equal participation of persons with various disabilities remain throughout the electoral process, this Brief will focus only on issues affecting the most fundamental act a citizen performs in a democracy--casting and verifying one's vote at election time.

There are 3 elements to casting a fully accessible vote,

  1. Secret - private
  2. Independent - without the need for assistance by another person and
  3. verifiable - being able to check back on the voting choices you have made.

Rationale

Over six hundred thousand persons living in Canada claim variations of vision loss from total loss of vision, partial sight to deaf-blindness. This figure will continue to rise!

section 15 of the Canadian charter of rights and Freedoms Guarantees all Canadians, including Canadians with mental and physical disabilities equality under the law and the equal benefit of the law. Casting a secret vote is a fundamental right of citizens in a democracy, and it is currently denied to Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted through the use of a ballot which we cannot read, cast and verify independently and in secret.

This right was further re-enforced by Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, signed by Canada on march 30, 2007 (See Appendix A for the text of this Section of the UN Convention).

In September, 2002, disability rights experts, Senior election administration officials and international parliamentarians from more than 24 countries met in Sigtuna, Sweden to draft a global Bill of Electoral Rights for People with Disabilities'. Based on the list of signatories, Canada was very well represented at this important international meeting.

The Bill of Rights defines And promotes the fundamental rights of people with disabilities in relation To all aspects of the electoral process, in particular: the right to a Secret Vote, full physical accessibility of polling stations, and full and equal Electoral rights for people with mental disabilities. The text of this Bill of Rights appears in Appendix B to this Brief.

Issues

While Elections Canada has been upgrading procedures for casting one's vote in federal elections, The AEBC believes that for the growing population of Canadians experiencing vision loss, further improvements are required.

The present procedures still leave blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians dependent on SIGHTED assistance at the polling station, to read the ballot aloud, to assure the ballot is correctly lined up in the template, and to ensure the ballot has been marked properly, since the design of the template does not guarantee that the ballot will not move.

This is why the AEBC seeks the implementation of an alternative voting option for all Canadian electors.

At present, more and more jurisdictions around the world are testing and implementing alternative methods of voting. These in clude electronic voting machines (some of which provide a paper trail and others that do not), voting by telephone or the internet.

Recommendations

  1. Elections Canada, in collaboration with consumer organizations such as AEBC, should begin immediately testing alternative voting methods, including electronic voting machines, as authorized in Sec. 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act 2000, c. 9 [Assented to May 31st, 2000), provides: "The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters."
  2. the findings should be submitted to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for implementation. Given the amount of research already undertaken elsewhere, and the growing number of other jurisdictions using various alternative voting methods, the AEBC believes this research can be completed successfully within 6-9 months.

Conclusion

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians began meeting with Elections Canada in 2004. It is time that Canada implemented a fully accessible method of voting so that all citizens can caste a secret and verifiable ballot. The AEBC believes the recommendations contained in this Brief would remove existing barriers and provide Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted with the equal access to the electoral process they require. It is time to move on these recommendations.

Appendix A: UN Convention

Participation in political and political life State Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and shall undertake:

  1. To ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected, inter alia, by:
    1. Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use;
    2. Protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation, and to stand for elections, to efficiently hold office and perform all public functions at all levels of government, facilitating the use of assistive and new technologies where appropriate;
    3. Guaranteeing the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities as electors and to this end, where necessary, at their request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their own choice;
  2. To promote actively an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, and encourage their participation in public affairs, including:
    1. Participation in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country, and in the activities and administration of political parties;
    2. Forming and joining organizations of persons with disabilities to represent persons with disabilities as international, national, regional and local levels."

Appendix B: The Bill of Electoral Rights for Citizens with Disabilities

Every citizen shall have the right and opportunity, without distinction on the basis of intellectual, physical, psychiatric, sensory or other disability:

  • To have access on general terms of equality to the conduct of public affairs directly or indirectly through freely chosen representatives;
  • To participate on general terms of equality in the conduct of elections;
  • To register for, and to vote in genuine and periodic elections, referenda and plebiscites which shall be by universal and equal suffrage;
  • To vote by secret ballot;
  • To stand for election, to be elected, and to exercise a mandate once elected.

These rights shall be guaranteed without discrimination on any grounds, including disability, and without restrictions other than those justified in a free and democratic society. States have the obligation to take affirmative and effective measures to ensure that citizens with disabilities enjoy these rights and have the opportunity to exercise their political and electoral rights on the basis of equality.

All these rights are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Sigtuna, Sweden September 16, 2002 The Bill of Electoral Rights for Citizens with Disabilities By drafting and signing this Bill of electoral rights for citizens with disabilities, we the undersigned pledge to advance and disseminate the spirit and intent of this Bill within our organizations and networks.

Signed in Sigtuna, on September 17, 2002, by the following:
  • Richard Soudriette President, IFES
  • Bengt Lindqvist UN Special Rapporteur on Disability
  • Karen Fogg Secretary General, IDEA
  • Oziel Molahloa Kalawe Lesotho Independent Election Commission
  • Sophie Beaumont European Disability Forum
  • Eva Falkenberg Sida
  • Tomas Lagerwall Rehabilitation International
  • Anna Birte Pade Danish Ministry of the Interior and Health
  • Mary O'Hagan World Network of Users and Survivors Of Psychiatry
  • Diane Davidson Elections Canada
  • Roberto Madriz Inclusion InterAmericana
  • Maria Magdelena Mungunda Namibian National Assembly
  • Anura Priyadharshana Yapa Member of Parliament, Sri Lanka
  • Jean Pierre Kingsley Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
  • Gaël Martin-Micallef Council of Europe, Venice Commission
  • Monica Bartley Combined Disabilities Association, Jamaica
  • Dan Kalale Electoral Commission of Zambia
  • Felix Simulunga Zambia Federation of the Disabled
  • Rusadi Kantaproawira Electoral Commission of Indonesia
  • Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen Member of Parliament, South Africa
  • Leif Jeppsson World Blind Union
  • Pauline Welsh Electoral Office of Jamaica
  • Pedro Chavez Aproddis Luc Dumont Elections Canada
  • Halit Ferizi Handikos
  • Christina Fleetwood Swedish Disability Federation
  • K. Sarfo-Kantanka Electoral Commission, Ghana
  • Maria Lourdes Gonzales CAPEL
  • Kate Sullivan International IDEA Afredita Berisha Handikos
  • Nicholas Halm Ghana Federation of the Disabled
  • Pàl Gadò ACEEEO/MEOSz, Hungary
  • Ariana Abdul Mun'im Electoral Access Committee 2004 for People with Disabilities, Indonesia
  • Andre van Deventer World Federation of the Deafblind
  • Heppy Sebayang Electoral Access Committee 2004 for People with Disabilities, Indonesia
  • Sarah Gull Electoral Commission of the United Kingdom
  • Martin Long Action on Disability and Development
  • Michael Cooke Australia Electoral Commission
  • Jerome Mindes IFES Mafole Sematlane Lesotho IEC/SADC ECF
  • Jeff Fischer IFES