TORONTO, March 30 /CNW/ - Because voters with disabilities still confront barriers impeding access to polling stations and voting independently, at 12:30 pm, Wednesday March 31, 2010 the AODA Alliance will press an Ontario Legislature Standing Committee at Queen's Park Room 151, to beef up the McGuinty Government's toothless Bill 231. They want fully accessible elections for over one million voters with disabilities. The Government's Bill 231 is supposed to modernize elections, including addressing barriers facing voters with disabilities.
"It's inexcusable that in the recent Toronto Centre by-election, more than one polling station had barriers impeding voters with mobility limitations," said David Lepofsky, Chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance. "In the 2007 election, Premier McGuinty promised us an accessible elections action plan, but his bill won't ensure that we can get into polling stations and mark our ballot independently, now or ever."
The AODA Alliance says the government knows about serious impediments to the voting process, but Bill 231 does far too little to fix this. Elections Ontario's 2007 election report revealed shocking survey results: "Forty-four per cent of voters with special needs said they experienced problems at their voting locations and 15 per cent said they had problems casting their ballots, a stark contrast to eight per cent and one per cent respectively for electors in general. ... The main areas of concern are physical accessibility in the voting location, signage outside the place identifying the location, the process of voting including the assistance received from poll workers, privacy and the ability to communicate with staff."
"This bill just lets Elections Ontario hold conferences or do research, or use accessible voting machines if it wishes. It doesn't require EO to do any of this. The bill bars low-cost, widely available technology, only allowing more expensive options," said Lepofsky. "The bill helpfully lets voters mail in ballots or get home visits from Elections Ontario, but doesn't ensure the ballot is accessible, if marked at home or the polling station. The bill really just says: 'Trust Elections Ontario to do the right thing.' Especially with EO's track record, we deserve better."
Last month, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled an inaccessible federal polling station violated a voter with a disability's rights. Elections Canada was ordered to clean up its act and pay that voter $10,000 damages. To improve Bill 231, and keep Premier McGuinty's election promise, the AODA Alliance offers practical recommendations to ensure that provincial and municipal elections are accessible, while ensuring access is enforced. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03172010.asp
At March 24 public hearings, community presenters unanimously called for Bill 231 to be strengthened. The Ontario Human Rights Commission warned that the Government risks big damage awards under human rights laws if voters face election barriers.
SOURCE AODA ALLIANCE
For further information: For further information: David Lepofsky, (416) 706-5075