The conduct of elections to municipal office for all Ontario municipalities is governed by the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, as amended (“MEA”). Under the MEA, the clerk is responsible for the preparation and conduct of municipal elections. The Good Government Act, 2009, was an omnibus Bill, enacted December 15, 2009, which included amendments to a number of statutes including the MEA. Among the amendments to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 were changes emphasising on the area of accessibility for electors with disabilities.
Under the revised legislation, a clerk who is responsible for conducting an election shall have regard to the needs of electors and candidates with disabilities. Furthermore, in establishing voting places, the clerk shall ensure that each voting place is accessible to electors with disabilities. Finally, amendments to the MEA require the clerk to submit a report to council about the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities within 90 days after voting day. This report satisfies that statutory requirement.
The Elections Office undertook a multi-pronged approach to ensuring an accessible election to all electors and candidates. In terms of the voting place, the Elections Office undertook a comprehensive review of the built environment for each voting place. This process was achieved through the completion of a detailed accessibility checklist that was developed in consultation with staff in the City’s Accessibility Office and Infrastructure Services. This checklist is attached as Document 1. The review included the evaluation of features such as elevators, ramps, handrails, lighting and door widths resulting in several renovations and adaptations to remove barriers for electors. In some cases, where the traditional or proposed voting place did not meet accessibility standards, an entirely new facility was selected to ensure the voting place was accessible.
In terms of training and staffing, the Elections Office introduced increased accessibility training for all election workers and established a new election worker role dedicated to assisting electors with disabilities. A number of adaptations were also implemented to remove barriers for election workers with disabilities. For example, low accessible tables were provided to election workers who used a wheelchair or could not stand for long periods of time.
Since using effective communication techniques are vital to providing accessible service, the Elections Office reviewed and revised all of its documents to ensure they included appropriate terminology. This significant undertaking included enhancements to the instruction manuals provided to 3,500 election workers. Other enhancements included a refresh of the accessibility information provided to electors and candidates through various mediums including brochures, emails and the Ottawa.ca website.
The voting process itself was made more accessible through the introduction of new voting tools and services. As in past elections, every voting place offered the following tools and services to electors:
- Large Print Ballots;
- Plastic Braille Template;
- Braille Listing of Candidates; and
- Cell Phone with Elections Call Centre Staff on Standby.
In addition to these tools and services, the Elections Office introduced new technology to the voting process. Most notably, a Voter Assist Terminal (“VAT”) was available in many voting places. The VAT allows electors with disabilities to mark their ballot privately and independently. Its features include a Braille keypad, a touch screen, a rocker paddle and a “sip-puff” device to mark the ballot. The technology also provides audio language assistance, through headphones, to voters who need help to better understand written instructions in either English or French. Electors with vision impairments could also use the zoom and high contrast features for assistance.
To raise awareness about these initiatives, the Elections Office also undertook a significant public consultation and outreach program. Key parts of this outreach included consultation with the Accessibility Advisory Committee as well as interactive presentations at major shopping centres throughout the City.
The accessibility project operated within the context of the overall municipal elections mandate. The costs related to the accessibility project can be grouped in the following broad categories: voting place renovations and adaptations; accessibility tools and supplies; fees related to location changes; and personnel costs. In total, the cost of the accessibility project was $608,450.