The next provincial general election is on October 10, 2007. This event will be combined with a provincial referendum on electoral system reform. Together, the two events will demand comprehensive information and education programs far more in-depth than those used for previous general elections or by-elections in Ontario.
In addition, recent changes to the Election Act need to be communicated to electors. Chief among these are the broadened identification requirements for registration and voting and the increased number of advance poll days.
When it comes to persons with disabilities, the information, products and services Elections Ontario is offering electors have been jointly developed through cumulative years of consultation with stakeholder organizations working with people with disabilities, as well as the experience gained and lessons learned, in recent years, through several general elections and 10 by-elections.
After the last general election, the agency surveyed stakeholders to evaluate what worked and what needed improvement. Overall, feedback was positive, with a few areas identified for further attention. With respect to accommodating disabilities, more communications with mental health organizations and those serving people who are deaf-blind was identified as a need. The agency also identified the need for information in a clear-language format for people with low literacy.
OUTREACH TO ELECTORS WITH DISABILITIES
Heading into 2007, Elections Ontario developed relationships with more than 40 key stakeholder organizations (such as the Canadian Abilities Foundation, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, Canadian Mental Health Association, CNIB and Canadian Hearing Society, to name just a few). These organizations are helping the agency to inform electors with disabilities through their communications channels, including member newsletters, websites and community networks. A number have also contributed to Elections Ontario’s materials for training for election officials and poll workers.
In addition, the agency continues to provide hundreds of other organizations with information they can use to ready their members and clients to register and vote, and to gather their input on critical issues, such as new identification requirements.
For the general election in October, electors who are not already registered will need to present identification documents that prove their identity as well as their residence to get on the Voters List. Electors who are already registered will be required to provide proof of identity when they vote, as in past elections.
This past summer, Elections Ontario completed a province-wide consultation with stakeholders on the kinds of identification documents their members and clients have that can satisfy legislative requirements when they go to register and vote. The result is a list, posted at www.elections.on.ca, that is more inclusive for all Ontarians than it would have been without this valuable input.
The result of this collective work is that, by the time the writs are issued on September 10, 2007, electors with disabilities will have access to information, registration and voting through a range of products and services.
ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION FOR ELECTORS
Election and referendum information is available to electors through diverse channels and formats. These include Braille and large print, available for download at www.elections.on.ca, and on CD or cassette from Elections Ontario by request. It is also being published in 30 of the most common languages in Ontario.
The agency is providing clear-language material for service providers, helpers and electors, and sending information kits to administrators of homeless shelters to reach and disseminate information to homeless electors. Kits are also going to administrators of women’s shelters through the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
For more information, Elections Ontario’s call centre offers access by telephone and email, including TTY at 1-866-273-4612. The agency recently installed interactive software that allows multiple agents to communicate with callers using keyboard communications. Call centre agents are trained in responding to diverse needs and can provide service in multiple languages.
ACCESS TO VOTING
A number of provisions facilitate access to registration and voting for electors with disabilities. These include registration and polls in long-term care facilities and the option to transfer to another poll in the same electoral district for easier access.
Elections Ontario is communicating with disability offices at Ontario’s colleges and universities to boost awareness of the information and new registration and poll locations now available to students.
New legislation has increased the number of advance polls in each electoral district from six to 13 for more options in choosing the most accessible location.
Electors who are not registered can get on the Voters List and vote at an advance poll or on Election and Referendum Day on October 10 – it is critical that they remember to bring the right documentation for proof of identity and proof of residence. To find out if they are already on the Voters List at the correct address, electors can use the “Where do I vote” function at www.elections.on.ca or call Elections Ontario at 1-888-668-8683.
An elector who is unable to attend in person may have a designate cast a ballot by proxy and can arrange this up to 8 p.m. on October 9, the day before Election and Referendum Day.
HELP AT THE POLL
When they go to vote, electors with disabilities can receive help in a variety of ways, including assistance from the deputy returning officer at the poll or from a friend who lives in the same electoral district (a person may act as a ìfriendî for only one elector).
There is also an option to have the ballot box brought to the door of the polling place for electors who are not able to enter. Elections Ontario is asking electors to arrange this in advance by calling their local returning office.
The Chief Electoral Officer is allowing the use of assistive communication devices in the polls, as long as they are used during the voting process specifically to facilitate communication between poll officials and persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Electors with hearing disabilities can use a sign-language interpreter to communicate with poll officials and Elections Ontario will cover the cost – this must be pre-arranged by the elector through Ontario Interpreting Services.
Electors will find a number of useful tools at the poll. These include directional signage and clear-language posters, magnifiers for people with low vision, and pens and pads for communication by people who are deaf. Elections Ontario is providing a new ballot template with raised numbers, Braille and cutouts to assist voters in marking their ballots independently.
That’s ballots – plural. Each elector will receive two ballots on October 10 – one for the election to choose their candidate and the other for the referendum to choose an electoral system.
This is history in the making and Elections Ontario is striving to ensure all electors are included.
For more information on products and services available to electors, please visit Elections Ontario’s website at www.elections. on.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-888-668-8683.