BUT THAT IS NOT THE END — AODA ALLIANCE ASKS FOR MEETING WITH CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER TO RE-CONSIDER THAT REFUSAL
May 24, 2012
Ontarians with disabilities have just come face-to-face with yet another roadblock in our 13-year-long campaign for fully accessible elections in Ontario for voters with disabilities. Undeterred, we tenaciously press ahead!
On May 14, 2012, the AODA Alliance wrote Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa, to ask Elections Ontario to make the options of telephone and internet voting available in the upcoming Kitchener-Waterloo by-election. We seek this to accommodate the accessibility needs of voters with disabilities. However we also want these voting options available to all voters.
Ontario’s Elections Act now bans any network-connected voting technology like telephone and internet voting. However it gives Elections Ontario authority, during a by-election, to test new accessible voting technology like telephone and internet voting, and after that, to recommend that a committee of the Ontario Legislature lift that ban.
On May 22, 2012, the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Loren Wells, wrote a responding letter to the AODA Alliance. She said that Elections Ontario would not deploy telephone and internet voting in any by-election in 2012. We set out her letter below.
On May 23, 2012, the AODA Alliance wrote Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa to voice our objection to this decision. We asked Mr. Essensa for a meeting as soon as possible to discuss this issue. We explain why Elections Ontario has had ample time to prepare itself to deploy telephone and internet voting in this upcoming by-election. Elections Ontario’s refusal will leave in place unacceptable barriers impeding voters with disabilities. We set out this letter below.
Our public announcement of these developments takes place on the 17th anniversary of May 24, 1995 – the day that Mike Harris (who would go on to be elected as Ontario’s premier) wrote our predecessor coalition, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, to promise to enact a Disabilities Act in Ontario. Links to some more recent key events in our campaign for fully accessible elections and the text of the AODA Alliance’s May 14, 2012 letter to Elections Ontario are available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05142012.asp
Ontario by-elections do not come along frequently. We need Elections Ontario to act as soon as possible to deploy telephone and internet voting in a by-election, so we can eventually achieve our ultimate goal of having this accessible voting option available in the next Ontario general election. Send us your feedback. Write us at: email@example.com
Deputy Chief Electoral Officer
51 Rolark Drive
May 22, 2012
Mr. David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Dear Mr. Lepofsky,
The Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa, has asked me to respond to your letter, addressed to him and dated May 14, 2012.
You asked whether Elections Ontario will be providing the option of telephone and internet voting in the expected by-election in the Electoral District of Kitchener-Waterloo.
A key part of Elections Ontario’s strategic vision focuses on putting the elector first. In addition, Elections Ontario is required to deliver elections to Ontario voters in a manner that does not discriminate. Accordingly, we are committed to piloting alternative voting technology during a by-election and we have undertaken extensive research to that end.
Our research to date has shown how complex it is to deliver an election that incorporates technology into the provincial electoral process. All business areas are affected, not simply those directly associated with voting. In order to achieve the high quality results required to comply with the Election Act, we are taking steps to ensure that appropriate integration has been effected before we move to the piloting stage.
We must also be prepared to deliver a general election on very short notice. In our current circumstances, integration must take place at the same time that we are prepared to deliver a general election. Accordingly, we will not be in a position to pilot alternative voting technology this year.
Elections Ontario will, as outlined in the Election Act, be reviewing and reporting to the Legislative Assembly on a range of alternative voting technologies before June 30, 2013. The review will include an assessment of the viability of telephone and internet voting. It will consider how to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and how to serve electors in a modern, responsive and efficient manner.
Just as in the 2011 Provincial General Election, Elections Ontario will offer in-person assistive voting technology to ensure that every eligible Ontarian has an equal opportunity to vote privately and independently during the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election. If an eligible elector needs help in marking a ballot, they can take advantage of this technology by visiting their returning office during advance polls in that office and continuing until the day before voting day.
In the returning office, assistive voting tools will be available that feature:
* Audio headphones
* Tactile buttons
* Large keypads marked with Braille
* A “sip and puff” device.
We will continue to evaluate our capacity to pilot alternative voting technology as we move forward, and remain committed to modernizing elections and enhancing accessibility. We are determined to test modern accessible voting technology as soon as circumstances permit.
Thank you for the opportunity to outline our commitment and our alternative voting technology plans.
Loren A. Wells
Deputy Chief Electoral Officer
cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Tim Hudak, Leader, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
Andrea Horwath, Leader, New Democratic Party of Ontario
Hon. John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services
Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
May 23, 2012
Mr. Greg Essensa, Chief Electoral Officer
51 Rolark Drive
facsimile (416) 326-6200
Re: Making Ontario Elections Fully Accessible to All Voters with Disabilities
We request an opportunity to meet with you in person as soon as possible. We seek this meeting to discuss our request that Elections Ontario deploy telephone and internet voting in the as-yet unscheduled Kitchener-Waterloo provincial by-election.
On May 14, 2012 we wrote you to ask Elections Ontario to test this voting technology in the upcoming by-election that was triggered by the resignation of Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer. Our May 14, 2012 letter, which is publicly available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05142012.asp explains that the option of telephone and internet voting is needed to help ensure that voters with disabilities, such as those with vision loss or dyslexia, can independently and privately mark their ballot without assistance, and verify their choice. We seek this option for all voters, not just for voters with disabilities. It will help increase voter turnout by making the voting process quicker and easier for all voters.
We were very troubled to receive the May 22, 2012 response to our request, from your subordinate, Ms. Loren Wells, the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer for Ontario. In her letter, Elections Ontario refuses categorically to offer the option of telephone and internet voting in any by-election held at any time in 2012. She states: “We are determined to test modern accessible voting technology as soon as circumstances permit.” She doesn’t say when, after 2012, Elections Ontario will be willing to test telephone and internet voting.
Ms. Wells’ letter gives the following reasons for Elections Ontario’s absolute refusal to use telephone and internet voting in any by-election in 2012:
“Our research to date has shown how complex it is to deliver an election that incorporates technology into the provincial electoral process. All business areas are affected, not simply those directly associated with voting. In order to achieve the high quality results required to comply with the Election Act, we are taking steps to ensure that appropriate integration has been effected before we move to the piloting stage.
We must also be prepared to deliver a general election on very short notice. In our current circumstances, integration must take place at the same time that we are prepared to deliver a general election. Accordingly, we will not be in a position to pilot alternative voting technology this year.”
This boils down to saying that telephone and internet voting is complicated, and Elections Ontario must be ready for a general election at any time. This, with respect, is no excuse.
As we detailed in our May 14, 2012 letter to you, Elections Ontario has been on notice for at least two years of the need to be ready to test telephone and internet voting in a by-election in 2012. Fully a year and a half ago, on December 3, 2010, Elections Ontario committed in writing: “We plan to be ready for this testing in by-elections held after January 1, 2012…” Elections Ontario’s refusal to do so, set out in Ms. Wells’ May 22, 2012 letter to us, is a breach of that important commitment.
Our May 14, 2012 letter to you asked for as much detail as possible in your response. Ms. Wells’ letter provides little if any specifics. Could you please let us know in detail what steps Elections Ontario has taken to prepare to deploy telephone and internet voting in a by-election, when these steps were each completed, what remaining steps Elections Ontario believes it still must take to prepare to deploy these accessible voting options, why those remaining steps have not yet been completed, and by when Elections Ontario plans to complete those remaining steps.
Two years has been more than enough time for Elections Ontario to be ready to deploy this technology in a by-election. As you know, this accessible voting technology was successfully deployed in the 2006 and 2010 Cobourg Ontario municipal elections.
By categorically refusing to deploy telephone and internet voting in any by-election in 2012, Elections Ontario is extending an unwarranted embargo on this technology. As you know, amendments to the Elections Act give you the sole power to lay the foundation for lifting the legal ban on this access technology. Elections Ontario must test it in a by-election before it can recommend to a Committee of the Legislature that the ban on this access technology be lifted. The longer Elections Ontario delays testing telephone and internet voting, the longer voters with disabilities must continue to face unjustified barriers to their fundamental right to independently and privately mark their ballot and verify their choice.
This situation is rendered all the more frustrating since we have been trying for some time with only limited success to obtain from Elections Ontario information on the state of its readiness to test pilot telephone and internet voting when the opportunity for a by-election presented itself in 2012. On October 28, 2011 we wrote you to ask you about this. That letter is publicly available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10312011.asp
On November 17, 2011, Ms. Wells replied on your behalf to that letter. She said: “As you know from our December 2, 2010 letter, Elections Ontario began a research program soon after passage of Bill 231 to look at the use of various networked voting options.
Elections Ontario has done extensive analysis and research on networked voting solutions, has consulted with our Accessibility Advisory Committee and other jurisdictions, and we have just released a Request for Proposals to engage with the vendor community to look for an option that meets the needs of Ontarians.” Her letter is publicly available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11252011.asp With all those steps having been completed over six months ago, it is difficult to see why Elections Ontario is not ready now, and won’t be ready for the remaining seven months of this year.
Adding to our frustration, Ms. Wells’ May 22, 2012 letter to us speaks of the option for accessible voting that you plan to deploy in the upcoming Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, namely an accessible voting machine at the returning office. As you know, this means that voters with disabilities like vision loss or dyslexia will have only one place in the entire riding where they can independently and privately mark their ballot and verify their choice. In contrast, all other voters will have the option of voting close to home in their nearby polling station. That is not equality.
Moreover, voters with disabilities who wish to use that accessible voting machine must do so before election day itself. Elections Ontario does not make that accessible voting machine available on voting day, the actual day when most voters go to the polls to vote. A voter who needs access technology to mark their ballot must face the cruel choice of either foregoing the use of that voting machine, or foregoing the right to hold off making their voting choice until the end of the campaign period.
At the very least, in the upcoming Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, Elections Ontario should deploy around the Kitchener-Waterloo riding all the accessible voting machines that Elections Ontario purchased for the last Ontario election at taxpayers’ expense. These number over 140 machines.
Mr. Essensa, you did not come to on-line voting as a novice when the Legislature passed Bill 231 two years ago. In an interview you did on TVOntario’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” well before Bill 231 was passed, you indicated that you were then chairing an inter-provincial task force of elections officials like yourself that explored options like internet voting.
It is important for us to meet with you in person as soon as possible, to discuss our ideas and concerns and to seek your leadership on this issue. As you know, our coalition, preceded by its predecessor the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, has been in the lead in campaigning for fully accessible elections for voters with disabilities, for many years.
You are the public official with the sole power to authorize the use of accessible telephone and internet voting in the upcoming Kitchener-Waterloo by-election. You have commendably spoken in the past about the importance of Elections Ontario being open, accountable and transparent.
We have not met with you face-to-face since early 2010, over two years ago. When we first met early in 2010, you voiced a strong desire to work closely together with us on the priority of achieving fully accessible elections in Ontario for voters with disabilities. This is an important opportunity to do this.
Finally, in Ms. Wells’ November 17, 2011 letter to us, she said that you would be producing a report on accessibility measures in the last Ontario general election. We would appreciate receiving a copy of that report in MS Word format now, or if not yet completed, then as soon as it is available.
David Lepofsky, CM, O. Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, fax 416-325-9895, email firstname.lastname@example.org
John Milloy, Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-3347, email email@example.com
Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-5240, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate, fax (416) 325-9620, email Ellen.Waxman@ontario.ca
Tim Hudak, Leader of the Official Opposition, fax (416) 325-0491, email email@example.com
Andrea Horwath, Third Party Leader, fax (416) 325-8222, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO