By Tori Stafford The Whig-Standard
Posted August 20, 2011
Voters who’ve had difficulty in the past getting to polling stations or returning offices due to disability will have a new voting option in October.
Elections Ontario will introduced home visits as a voting alternative for the Oct. 6 provincial election. By calling Elections Ontario or its local returning
office, electors who qualify can have a special ballot officer come to their home so they can cast their vote.
“It one of a series of amendments to the Election Act that was aimed to make voting more accessible,” said Barbara McEwan, director of electoral events
for Elections Ontario.
Providing a person is eligible to vote in the Oct. 6 election, one of two criteria must be met in order to qualify for the home visit, McEwan said.
The first is that it would be impossible or unreasonable for the elector to vote at the returning office, said McEwan, which is one of the options available for those who vote by special ballot.
The second is that the elector would be in need of assistance to apply to vote by special ballot because of a disability or an inability to read or write, she said.
“We think it’s really going to make voting more accessible for people who may have faced barriers in the past,” McEwan said. “It’s another option that’s
available, so we think it’s going to go a long way.”
Glenn Outhwaite believes home visits are a good option for people who face difficulty with mobility. The former chairman of the Kingston Accessibility Committee, and confined to a wheelchair himself, Outhwaite said he wouldn’t use the option because he has the ability to get to the polls, but there are others, he said, who can’t.
“I know that there are many, many people who didn’t vote in the civic election because they had no way of getting there,” Outhwaite said. “So there will
be a number of people who will take advantage (of the program) as long as it’s well advertised in advance.”
Not all accessibility advocates agree.
“I really don’t like that kind of idea,” Geof Collis said. “It’s too much special treatment.”
Collis, who is legally blind, runs a website that monitors accessibility issues out of his house. With a few tweaks to a regular computer setup, he is able
to use the Internet and read documents on-screen with ease, he said.
If it were up to him, the new option would be online voting, as it would be more personal, he said, and therefore more equitable.
“I don’t like the idea of having someone come to your house and hold your hand. I just don’t find it very dignifying,” said Collis.
“Some people would probably like it, but … for me, (the choice) would be online voting.”
Collis said that in the last municipal election, only one person voted using the accessible machine provided at his local municipal office in the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock district. Had online voting been available, he believes many more members of the blind community would have cast their vote.
“The whole idea is about independence and dignity, right? I don’t see (having someone come to your home) giving it to you,” he said. “What would be the
cost of something like that, too?”
With the program in its inaugural year, McEwan said Elections Ontario is unsure what the cost will be.
“It really depends on what the uptake is,” she said. “We’ve obviously got staff in place to deliver the program, but we’re not really sure because this
is the first time we’ve offered it.”
Still, Outhwaite said the step to implement the house visit program was one the Ontario government needed to make.
“(The government) has to look seriously at the fact that the population is really aging, and there’s a lot of individuals who do not have the capability
to get to a polling station,” he explained.
“It’s going to increase with the elderly population increasing, so I think that they certainly need to take that into account and look at all the practices
they possibly can to facilitate allowing these individuals to exercise their right to vote.”
McEwan said that, for individuals who are unsure if they will qualify for a home visit, the first step is calling your local returning office or Elections
Home visit requests will be accepted at Elections Ontario headquarters until Aug. 30 by phone, fax or email. Elections Ontario will then forward the request to your local returning officer, and the applicant will receive a call from a special ballot officer after Sept. 7 to schedule a home visit.
After Aug. 30, applicants can call their returning office from Sept. 7 to Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. to book an appointment.
Article ID# 3265808
Reproduced from http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3265808