By Chloe Sobel
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Steve Cutway is frustrated by the experience he had when he voted in advance at the returning office last Friday. (Chloe Sobel For The Whig-Standard)
Steve Cutway, a Kingston resident, voted in advance at the returning office last Friday. This wouldn’t be unusual, except that Cutway had to make two attempts before finally casting his ballot.
Cutway is totally blind. He had gone to the returning office to use the accessible voting machine there, the only one in the riding.
A poll clerk told him that he would need to press the “blue button” in order to print the completed ballot.
“I asked her which was the ‘blue button’ and she said, ‘the button right here’ and I assume pointed to it. That was the first sign of possible trouble,” Cutway wrote in an email describing the experience.
Cutway then put on headphones and listened to an audio message that said “for English instructions, press the red Select key.” Cutway has been blind all his life and has no conception of the colour.
“I thought ‘I’m not gonna know what the colour is, but where is the button?'” he said.
Cutway said he hadn’t been given an opportunity to examine the keypad before beginning, so he didn’t know which key was the select key. He found a Braille “Select” label above what was the select key, but below that same key was a label reading “Help.”
After pressing the button he believed to be the select key, he was asked what input he wanted to use. He thought he needed to press various keys to choose input, and pressed the select key to choose audio. He was then told he would be using “sip and puff”.
“I sensed that the poll clerk was becoming a bit flustered. She thought that if I didn’t do anything, I’d be given a chance to choose another input. I wasn’t, so she restarted the process. Again, I chose the same input.
“At that point, I gave up and my wife marked my ballot for me,” Cutway wrote.
He learned later that he wasn’t being given choices, and was supposed to wait to press the button until he heard the input he wanted spoken.
“Had I been told that, either by the poll clerk or by the machine, my voting experience using the accessible voting machine might have been more positive,” Cutway wrote.
Cutway emailed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance that day describing his experience. David Lepofsky, chair of the Alliance, forwarded Cutway’s complaint to Elections Ontario.
Cutway received an apology, which he accepted, and an assurance that the staff would receive fresh training.
“I appreciate their challenge but I suspect that their training is designed to try to teach their staff a one-size-fits-all solution,” Cutway said.
Cutway has other concerns about poll worker training.
He’d believed that in order to use the machine, he had to vote in the advance polling period. He mentioned this to a poll worker at the returning office.
“That belief wasn’t corrected, and it probably should have been,” he said.
Cutway is also concerned that voters with less experience with this technology than he has would have a difficult time voting.
“Think about a person who’s a senior, 85 years old, who walks in, who has the expectation — the hope — of being able to use that machine. I would agree with (Lepofsky) there that I don’t think that they would have coped or could have coped, not at least with the level of instruction that I was given.”
He said a move to telephone and Internet voting, or network voting, would be more accessible for voters.
Network voting is not permitted on the provincial level, but is permissible in municipal elections. The City of Kingston will use network voting in the October municipal elections.
Andrew Willis, a media spokesperson for Elections Ontario, said that it has not yet found a method of network voting that meets its eight principles to measure success, including accessibility.
David Lepofsky said that Cutway is not the only person to have problems with voting accessibility.
“I’ve already gotten an email from a visually disabled person in Toronto who had a similar problem,” he said.
“I’m blind, I used that voting machine myself, but the fact is, it’s gotta be consistently reliable or it’s not good enough.”
The person who emailed Lepofsky found the machine “complicated to use” and the instructions unclear, and had to ask a friend to read the printed ballot in order to verify who they had voted for.
“This is the story that we face in 2014, you know? The risk of an inaccessible candidates’ debate, an inaccessible polling station or an inaccessible ballot. Not every time, but I’m saying: too many times,” Lepofsky said.
He said that part of voting is the ability to cast a secret ballot, something that blind voters weren’t able to do until the introduction of the accessible voting machine.
“Most of my adult life I haven’t had that opportunity. I’ve had to have somebody else mark my ballot and I have to trust that they wrote down what I asked them to “¦ and I have to trust that they don’t tell anyone. “And that’s a lot of trusting that sighted voters don’t have to do,” he said.
He added that voters facing accessibility barriers also receive lessened political influence.
“We want full access to the vote so we can have full access to government and get our rights.”