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Alternative voting methods – an OHRC letter to Elections Ontario

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December 4, 2012

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Sent: November 30, 2012

Greg Essensa
Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario
Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Toronto, ON  M1R 3B1

Dear Mr. Essensa,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet earlier this month regarding Elections Ontario’s review and public consultation on alternative voting methods involving internet and telephone voting technologies.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission supports these forms of accessible voting as well as the eight electoral principles identified by Elections Ontario: accessibility, one vote per voter, vote authentication and authorization, only count votes from valid voters, individual verifiability, voter privacy, results validation and service availability.

The electoral principle of “accessibility” recognizes that persons with disabilities should be able to vote without assistance. This principle should also include the human rights principles of inclusive design, respect for dignity and accommodation of individual need. Inclusive design means the ideal goal should be as many people as possible, with and without disabilities, are able to use the same voting technology and procedures (on-site or remotely), recognizing that some people with disabilities may still need a different accommodation.

The other electoral principles also have implications for persons with disabilities. Voting mechanisms and procedures must allow voters with disabilities to verify their vote selection themselves in privacy. Persons with disabilities should also have access to the same service availability and convenience as others voters. They should be able to vote using accessible equipment on voting day, not just at advance polls. Ideally, persons with disabilities would be able to use remote voting technology on voting day as well.

The OHRC is concerned that provisions of the Election Act appear to limit use of on-site accessible voting equipment to the advance poll period, prohibiting their use on polling day.[1] The OHRC recommends that the government review this restriction in light of the Human Rights Code.

Procedures for authenticating identity and authorizing people to vote, on-site and remotely, should also be inclusively designed and accessible as much as possible. For example: authentication and authorization procedures that would rely only on a paper-based postal registration process can cause barriers for persons with vision loss, learning and other types of disabilities.

Elections Ontario should explore whether on-site voting equipment and technology falls within the meaning of “self-service kiosks” and related obligations under section 6 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Keep in mind, the website interface for internet voting must be designed inclusively and meet international website accessibility standards in accordance with obligations under section 14 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.

Elections Ontario should also consider whether the level of risk associated with upholding each electoral principle is balanced across the principles; whether it is comparable across different modes of voting and for voters with and without disabilities, and, whether risks can be reduced such as by auditing for breach of principles after the fact.

The OHRC encourages Elections Ontario to pilot these forms of remote voting technology as soon as possible, ideally at the next by-election. The OHRC further recommends that Elections Ontario conduct a post pilot survey of both electors with and without disabilities regarding their experiences and any barriers they faced using the alternative technology.

Recognizing that section 44.2 (1).1 of the Election Act limits Elections Ontario’s discretion to pilot alternative voting methods only during a by-election[2], the OHRC recommends that the government review this restriction given that more than two years have passed since these amendments were passed under Bill 231, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act 2010; that by-elections are few and far between and often unforeseeable; and, that piloting of alternative voting methods during a general election might be managed by restricting piloting to a specific riding or ridings of sufficient size and representation of persons with disabilities, among other considerations.

With the principle of inclusive design in mind, Elections Ontario might consider whether in the long run remote network voting technology could eventually be used concurrently or even replace current on-site mechanisms at polling stations, with the goal of giving all voters universally accessible options.

Beyond voting, the OHRC is also concerned about accessibility barriers that electors, nomination seekers and candidates with disabilities face at all stages of our electoral process. This includes inaccessible facilities, meetings, debates and information during nomination and campaign periods. While outside the scope of Elections Ontario’s current consultation, these barriers may intersect with Elections Ontario’s mandate regarding election expenses, financial, registration and procedural reporting, as well as public information and policy advice.

Finally, the OHRC recommends that Elections Ontario reconstitute its accessibility advisory committee with terms of reference for discussing a broad range of intersecting issues going forward. In addition, Elections Ontario might consider participating in any other forums discussing implications of the Human Rights Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its related regulations for Ontario’s electoral process.

The OHRC looks forward to reviewing Elections Ontario’s final report that it will submit to the Speaker of the Assembly by June 30, 2013.

Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in your consultation. If you require more information or have further questions, feel free to contact myself or my staff.

Yours truly,


Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Chief Commissioner

Hon. Dave Levac, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Peter Wallace, Secretary of the Cabinet
Hon. John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services
Hon. John Gerretsen, Attorney General of Ontario
David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Tony Dolan, Chair, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

[1] Section 41.1 (3) of the Election Act states, “The accessible voting equipment and related vote counting equipment shall be made available in returning offices during the period that begins on the first day of advance polls and ends on the day before polling day, …:
[2] Section 44.2  (1).1 of the Election Act states, “At an election, if the following conditions are satisfied, the Chief Electoral Officer may direct that an alternative voting method, which may be an electronic voting method, be used: 1. The alternative voting method has been tested by being used at a by-election under section 4.1 and a report has been made to the Speaker of the Assembly under that section.