How accessible is it to vote this federal election?

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By Kieona George and Kosalan Kathiramalanathan

With the election just around the corner, voters have plenty on their minds to think about before hitting the polls this coming Monday. Some, however, are concerned if they can even reach the polls at all.

The Eyeopener spoke to Adam Asmar, lead coordinator of RyeACCESS, one of seven equity service centres from the Ryerson Students’ Union, about the accessibility issues surrounding polling stations.

“I’ve heard stories of voters who will go to a polling station and there’s no elevator, or the doors aren’t wide enough, or they’re unable to access the polling stations,” said Asmar.

According to Stats Canada in 2017, about 6.2 million Canadians aged 15 or over have some form of disability. 

Elections Canada has 37 accessibility criteria points for polling stations, 15 of which are mandatory, such as having exterior building lighting and level access to the entrance of the building. The accessibility of polling stations are evaluated with a suitability checklist, however significant accessibility measures such as level access ramps are not mandatory. 

When it comes to the criteria, Asmar said that there are some holes that remain due to what’s mandatory and what isn’t. 

There are some tools voters with disabilities can request, such a magnifier with light, a braille voting template, large-print lists of candidates, voting screens that let in more light and large pencils on election day.

Voters can also ask election workers for help to physically fill in their ballot and can have language and sign language interpreters be requested ahead of time, if needed.

“On one hand, you can make it mandatory to have levelled space thinking it can alleviate the need for a ramp—but sometimes that’s not the case. You can have levelled space that can still be inaccessible because [to get] to the levelled space, you might require ramp access,” he said.

Other mandatory criteria judge the dimensions of entrances and hallways and if the voting room is on the same level as the entrance.

If a polling station is not accessible, voters may be issued a Transfer Certificate to vote somewhere else in their district. Voters can obtain Transfer Certificates by contacting their local Elections Canada office and in some cases at the designated polling spaces.

When it comes to keeping spaces accessible there should be “a lot more enforcement” and an understanding that accessibility of spaces can change quickly, according to Asmar.

“Accessibility is very relative. Scrutinizers from Elections Canada can go vet a space and give it a checkmark and wash their hands from it, but at the same time, these places can become inaccessible in moments if the pavement is uneven or cars are not parked properly,” he said.

Asmar said on a positive note that Elections Canada’s engagement with advanced polls can help many people with disabilities.

“This year I really appreciated what Elections Canada has done with advanced polling. They really got out the vote for advanced polling. Advanced polling is a much more accessible, low traffic, stress-free way for folks to vote.”

Advanced polls saw 4.7 million Canadians vote, a 29 per cent increase compared to the 2015 election. University and college polls also saw 111,300 votes cast, up from 70,000 from four years ago.

Voters can see how accessible their polling station is by looking at their voter information card, which shows how much of the accessibility criteria are met. The accessibility of voting polls can also be found by calling Elections Canada, or by entering your postal code on their Voter Information Service

After the election, voters can fill out a feedback online form at elections.ca to give their feedback on the accessibility of their voting experience.

Voting for the federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

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