Article original disponible à Paru le jeudi 25 septembre 2008 sur Canada.com
Blind voters fight to vote in private
Canwest News Service
Thursday, September 25, 2008
SASKATOON - When Robin East steps into a voting booth on Oct. 14, he'd rather mark his X with nobody looking over his shoulder.
East, a visually impaired federal government employee, said he's offended by the common federal election practice of having a poll clerk vet the ballots of blind voters to make certain they're marked correctly. He said that supervision violates his right to vote in private, a right he's fighting for through the group he leads, the Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians.
"If they (Elections Canada officials) truly believe that bringing a friend (into the voting booth) is equality, then why not just have a blank ballot with just circles on it?" East said. "Just tell everybody what each circle is, then have a friend mark it for you. To me, it's ridiculous. That's what they want me to do, and I refuse to go with it."
Since 2004, the alliance has been working with Elections Canada to develop ballots more accessible to the visually impaired. Next month's federal election will mark the first general election where voters can use a special new Braille sleeve to read and mark their ballots.
Elections Canada spokesperson David Rutherford says poll clerks are instructed to ask voters if they need any assistance voting. If the voter agrees, the clerk will go into a booth with the voter and read them the choices in the order they appear on the ballot.
The ballot slides into a generic Braille plastic overlay that reads "Candidate 1, Candidate 2," and so on, on the right hand side. The voter can then mark her X through one of the holes on the plastic cover.
East doesn't like it.
"I expect to get the same information that everybody else gets, and right now, I get a blank ballot and I mark my ballot with, basically, invisible ink."
As a result, the alliance is taking Elections Canada to court. Before the end of the year, it expects to launch a Charter of Rights challenge arguing the voting process does not protect all voters' rights to cast a ballot independently, in private, and in a way that ensures freedom of choice.
Section 15 of the charter guarantees all Canadians equality under the law and the equal benefit of the law. Casting a vote in private is a fundamental democratic right, the alliance argues in a March 2008 brief on its website.
The solution, said East, is the AutoMARK voter assist terminal, made by Election Systems and Software.
The device, which is about the size of a fax machine with a laptop-sized display screen, can read a regular election ballot aloud into an earphone, allow the voter to mark her or his own ballot, then audibly confirm the voter's choice. It can also translate the ballot into dozens of languages.
"I can literally vote independently and in secret right now," East said. "But they refuse to go there."
The City of Winnipeg already has used the AutoMARK in its civic elections. The devices cost about $15,000 each.
East believes they should be at every polling station in the country. He said he doesn't want Braille ballots because there would be no way for voters to make their mark in Braille.
Elections Canada doesn't put Braille or large print on ballots, or provide electronic assistance terminals, because it's not spelled out in the Elections Act, Rutherford said.
"The law says, 'This is how a ballot will appear,'" he said. "It describes the ballot. We follow the law."
Until Parliament changes that law, the agency's hands are tied, he says.
Elections Canada has been working with disability advocates to make the voting process more accessible, and improvements in that area are part of the agency's planning, Rutherford said.
But East is skeptical of Elections Canada's willingness to budge.
"We've been working with Elections Canada for years and years, and we still have not made headway."
© Saskatoon StarPhoenix 2008