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Blind Disability Rights Advocate Has His Right to Mark His Ballot in Private Violated at His Riding’s Returning Office

Elections Ontario Again Fails to Ensure Accessible, Private Voting for All Voters with Disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
News Release For Immediate Release

June 1, 2018 Toronto: Blind lawyer, law professor and disability rights advocate David Lepofsky went to vote at his riding’s returning office this afternoon, using what Elections Ontario offers as an accessible voting machine. He experienced three distinct barriers. Worst among these, after he used the machine to mark his ballot, his ballot evidently came out of the voting machine and fell down to the floor, revealing his choice to an Elections Ontario official who was there to assist him in using that technology.

Lepofsky chairs the non-partisan grassroots Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance that has campaigned for years for accessible voting for voters with disabilities, and more generally, for accessibility for 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities. He acknowledges that this violation of his secret ballot was inadvertent, and that the Elections Ontario official was not trying to see the name of the candidate for whom he voted. However, the fact that this incident occurred, even inadvertently, shows that Elections Ontario has not found a reliable way to ensure that all voters with disabilities can independently and privately mark their ballot and verify their choice.

The following is a statement by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky about these events and the three barriers he faced, written shortly after it occurred:

“The fundamental democratic right that is in issue is the right to independently and privately mark my own ballot, and then to be able to myself verify my choice, before I cast my ballot.

Two hours ago, on June 1, 2018, just after 4 pm, I went to vote at the Returning Office in my riding, Eglinton Lawrence. I encountered the following inexcusable three disability barriers in the voting process. Elections Ontario is fully and solely responsible for these barriers.

On arriving, my wife (who is sighted) and I lined up to begin the process for each of us to vote. The pleasant gentleman who served us at the sign-in desk told us that we each had to sign a statement. I then ran into the first of the three barriers I was to face.

I asked if the affirmation document was available in Braille. The officials behind the desk said that it was not. We were told that a Braille document was available for the ballot, but not for this statement that I must sign. My wife read it to me. It was an affirmation that I am entitled to vote now e.g. affirming that I have not previously voted in this election.

There is no good reason in 2018 why Elections Ontario does not have such a mandatory document in alternative accessible formats like Braille. This raises serious issues under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

I was told about options for me to vote. It was obvious that I am blind. I carry a white cane. I was told about the accessible voting machine. I am very familiar with this kind of technology. I have used it in the 2011 and 2014 Ontario elections.

In the past two elections, the voting machine that was provided at a returning office let me put on headphones and hear instructions. By pressing a series of buttons, I was told of my choices of candidate. I could mark it and confirm my choice. The ballot was printed. In the 2011 and 2014 elections, I was then afforded a chance to myself verify that the ballot was marked as I wished. The ballot was scanned by a machine, and the machine told me for whom I had voted. I could then have the ballot confirmed, so I could cast it.

When voting today, the machine verbally gave me my voting choices over headphones. I selected my candidate of choice, and confirmed it. If memory serves, it did not give me the option of spoiling my ballot.

The machine then printed my ballot. I then encountered the second barrier I was to face. Neither the machine nor the Elections Ontario poll official who stood there to assist me throughout had told me that there was any option to use the machine to verify my choice of candidate on the ballot. I knew there had been such an option in the 2011 and 2014 elections.

I asked the official (who was very pleasant and clearly was trying to do a good job) if there is an option to verify my choice. He told me there was.

Then I encountered the third, and clearly the most intrusive barrier. My ballot came out of the voting machine. I heard the poll worker go over to the machine and do something. He then told me my ballot had fallen to the floor.

I was shocked. I asked if he saw whom I had voted for. He said he had seen whom I voted for. His tone of voice was anxious. He obviously understood that he is not supposed to see the candidate for whom I voted. I am not suggesting in any way that he was trying to intentionally get a look at my choice of candidate.

I was very upset, but made a real effort to keep my voice calm. He then had to feed the ballot back into a machine to verify my choice. I do not know if it was the same machine or a different one. I put on the headphones. The instructions came on and guided me through the steps so I could have the ballot scanned. It scanned the ballot and told me over the headphones which candidate had been marked. It had indeed been marked as I had chosen.

The polling official then took the ballot away to do whatever they do to submit it. I have no idea what exactly he did with the ballot from the moment it came out of that machine until it was deposited wherever ballots eventually go to be tabulated. I do not know if my choice of candidate was exposed to public view at any time during that process. Elections Ontario appears to expect me to simply take it on faith that my privacy won’t be violated.

I am very upset that my fundamental right to privacy in the voting process has been violated. No one should know for whom I voted. The whole purpose for this technology was to enable me to independently mark my ballot in private and to verify my choice. I don’t believe that voters who have no disabilities would be expected to tolerate such intrusions and risks.

It is absurd that this remains a problem in Ontario in the year 2018. That Elections Ontario cannot get this right eight years after the Ontario Legislature passed amendments to ensure the accessibility of the vote for voters with disabilities shows a serious failure on its part. This is made worse by Elections Ontario’s inflexible multi-year opposition to other new accessible voting options, like telephone voting, and Elections Ontario’s failure to come up with any other more effective alternatives.

I certainly don’t want Elections Ontario taking this incident out on that poll worker. Responsibility for this systemic problem lies with the leadership at Elections Ontario that has failed to find a more reliable solution for voters with disabilities, and that has not treated accessibility for voters with disabilities as a sufficient priority.

That this incident was inadvertent does not excuse it. Voters with disabilities and all voters deserve to know what Elections Ontario will now do to ensure that such incidents will never happen again.”

To learn more about the AODA Alliance’s efforts to ensure that the voting process is fully accessible to voters with disabilities, visit: https://www.aodaalliance.org/category/ontario-election/

Contact: David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance @davidlepofsky Web: www.aodaalliance.org