We need a voting system that is accessible to everyone

This week, I’ll update you about my experience with voting in the provincial election. If you missed last week’s article, here’s a quick recap.

Just over a week ago, I had planned to vote early. To my surprise, none of the locations in Ottawa Centre were remotely close to me. If I wanted to vote earlier, I would’ve had to pay to take public transportation just to vote. As a person on ODSP, I didn’t think it was fair that I’d have to pay to vote early. I’m already on a very limited budget. I admit that I haven’t reloaded my Presto card since Covid hit. I haven’t needed to, so bus fare is an added expense.

A friend pointed out that a local candidate was offering free rides for voters in Ottawa Centre. I booked a ride, but the vehicle wasn’t wheelchair accessible.

I reached out to the candidate, and one of their team members called me. They asked if I’d be open to voting at home. I was hesitant at first but agreed.

So, I voted last Thursday in my home.

The process itself is pretty straightforward and only took 5 minutes.

Two Elections Ontario officials showed up. One quickly explained how it worked and what I needed to do. I gave them my voter's card and showed them my ID.

They gave me a list of all of the candidates running in Ottawa Centre that I could vote for. To vote, I needed to write in the candidate’s name. For this, my PSW had to do it because I can no longer write unless it’s through my computer.

I told my PSW what name to write. After that, my PSW showed me that it was correct. We then returned the paper to the officials and signed my name. Any time I need to sign my name, I use a stamp.

The two Elections Ontario officials left moments later, and that was it.

As short and easy as it was, I feel that improvements need to be made.

For example, as I mentioned, I’m physically unable to write. I’m guessing that many people who need to vote at home may also be unable to write or have difficulties.

Why can’t we just put an X to indicate our vote? After all, that’s what everyone in Canada does when they vote. Placing an X won’t solve the problem for those unable to write, but in some cases, it will help.

More importantly, why is the X not an option for people with disabilities when voting at home? We’re like everyone else, so why is Elections Ontario making us mark our vote differently?

When I vote, I need help putting an X on my ballot. I usually choose my PSW or one of the staff at the voting station to assist me. If I ask my PSW, they need to take an oath. A polling station staff member asks my PSW to swear that they haven’t persuaded my decision and that my vote will remain secret.

While I understand the reason for the oath, it just adds another step and makes it more evident that I’m different. It can also be distracting to others.

A straightforward solution is for me to ask a staff member at the polling station. The issue with that is the risk of the person not understanding me, especially since I’m still wearing a mask indoors.

I would LOVE to have a way where eligible PWD, Seniors, and those with health issues who can’t go out to vote can cast their ballots in private like everyone else. We’d be able to log in to a website, fill out our information and click on the candidate’s name that we wish to vote for. After that, we’d click ok or submit, and that’d be it.

Two issues come to mind, though.

How could I prove that it’s me, Ryan Lythall, voting? Providing ID is a crucial element of voting. A person or team with IT or related experience would need to figure out a solution.

The second thing that popped into my head is people that don’t have access to a smart device or internet. How would they be able to vote?

For them, a home visit might be the best solution. Instead of writing out the candidate’s name, simply put an X.

Why make it more complicated than it needs to be?

I should point out that I’ve tried to vote using what Elections Ontario deems “accessible tools,” but I’m unable to use them. Most of their devices are targeted toward the visually or hearing impaired. The other choices include sip and puff and pressing paddles to select your vote.

Before I end this topic, I want to mention something to ALL candidates currently running and in the future.

If you’re offering to drive voters to a polling station, PLEASE have a vehicle that has a ramp and has room for a wheelchair or other mobility devices. If you don’t have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, PLEASE arrange alternate transportation so we can have the same opportunity to go out and vote.

Just because the PC party chooses to ignore people with disabilities doesn’t mean others should. Our votes still count, and people with disabilities also matter.

One last thing that I want to mention. If you’re a person with a disability and were or continue to be affected by the storm on May 21st, please reach out to me on Social Media.

I posted that message on Social Media last week, but very few have responded.

I’d love to hear your story and perhaps discuss ways in which the City of Ottawa and the province can be better prepared when another storm hits.

Photo: iStock