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Blind Voter Lashes Out Over City’s Mail-In Ballots

Posted By Lisa Gervais, Lindsay Post Reporter
September 2, 2010

KAWARTHA LAKES – A blind city voter has lashed out at politicians who chose mail-in ballots for the Oct. 25 municipal election.

Geof Collis said he is “appalled” by the decision, which he says has “effectively discriminated against me and others, ensuring that my right to vote is
neither private nor independent.

Faced with a mail-in ballot, he said: “How would it be possible to vote if you were blind without help from someone in one form or another?”

He would have preferred the city follow Coboug’s suit and allow telephone and internet voting, which would have allowed him to vote from home.

Now, his only option is to be taken to City Hall in Lindsay to use a ballot marking device with his vote put into an envelope.

He said it will hardly be independent.

“If a small town like Cobourg can implement an accessible system for voting for all of its citizens then there is no reason why the City of Kawartha Lakes
cannot follow suit,” he said.

“In this era of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) it is unacceptable that blatant discrimination should be allowed to continue.

“When my ballot arrives in the mail, I will not open it and will be returning it to city hall,” he said.

Council communications officer Brenda Stonehouse said “this process of choosing the method of voting was entirely political.”

She said clerk Judy Currins had presented a report with options, including traditional voting, mail-in ballots, online and phone as well as combinations,
but the council, without discussion, chose not to look at other options.

She said blind voters can come to City Hall and use an assistive ballot marker.

“They can’t vote in the privacy of their own homes, but it is still a private process,” she said.

Collis said that wasn’t good enough.

“What we need is to be treated with respect. We need our fundamental right to be able to vote in private, independently, with dignity and equality. With
today’s technology it has become even easier to achieve this.”

He has fired off an angry e-mail to candidates, saying “I have to go to city hall and have someone hold my hand and show me how to use the “assistive ballot marker” as the guide (on the city’s website) doesn’t say anything about “audio” – very dignifying, hardly independent or private.”

As of Monday (Aug. 30) he said he had been under-whelmed by the response he had gotten.

Article ID# 2740694

To see an Interview on the same issue download or open Blind Voting

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Transcription of Video Interview with Geof Collis

Geof Collis has had retinitis pigmentosa for 27 years, and is now legally blind. He designs web sites for companies to make them more accessible to the blind. Now he’s fighting to make something else more accessible—the ballot box.

Geof: My wife can walk out to that mailbox out there, grab her ballot, come back in here, close the door, fill it out, and put it back in the box. Probably takes her a couple of minutes. I have to…she’s got to get a day off from work, got to drive in to town, the city hall, but then we’ve got to find parking, fight traffic, go in, someone’s gonna show me how to use this thing like a little child.

The city of Kawartha Lakes adopted a mail-in ballot over telephone or Internet voting. Collis says, with all the technology today, he shouldn’t have to rely on anyone to place his vote.

Geof: Well I want them to start adopting what’s been going on in the provinces and other countries as well, and it’s phone-in and Internet. I mean, I do my banking online, I can do my banking by phone. Why can’t I vote?

According to the city, that’s not necessary. They have a voting system in place at city hall for people with disabilities.

City Clerk: We have a machine that’s an audio ballot marker. It provides instructions audio through headsets. And it allows an elector with a disability, if they’re blind. Or if they can’t use their limbs then they can do a sip and puff or there are paddles.

The mayor of the city of Kawartha Lakes is himself legally blind, and he thinks it’s a good compromise.

Mayor Ric McGee: We want people with disabilities to have that same right, and sometimes it’s not the way everybody would like it to be. But there’s a problem with every system of voting. And everybody will have their own opinions on that. So we’re trying to compromise to give everybody their opportunity to exercise their democratic right.

18 municipalities used telephone and Internet voting in the 2006 election. In 4 out of 5 of those municipalities, not only did it save money, , it also increased voter turnout. Collis says he’ll keep pushing for phone and Internet voting in the 2014 election. Pamela Vanmier, Checks Newswatch, Lindsay.

Transcribed by: Even Grounds, Inc.

Reproduced from