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May 2, 2011


Today’s federal election is an important time to think about the accessibility of this October’s upcoming Ontario general election. When you go to vote
in the federal election today, check if your polling station has any barriers to accessibility for voters with disabilities. If it does, then make sure Elections Ontario doesn’t use the same location for this fall’s Ontario general election.

The same polling locations are often used in both federal and provincial elections. Elections Canada, like Elections Ontario, has not always Chosen fully accessible places for polling stations. Last year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal held that Elections Canada violated the Canadian Human Rights Act when it used an inaccessible location for a federal polling station. For more on this, visit:

You have up to May 6, 2011 to give Elections Ontario feedback on whether it needs to relocate any of its proposed polling stations. To see where your polling station will be in the October Ontario general election, and to find out how to give Elections Ontario feedback on it, visit:

While thinking about the accessibility of elections to voters with disabilities, check out two informative articles on this topic, set out below:

* The Toronto Star’s April 29, 2011 edition included an excellent column by Helen Henderson on the need for fully accessible elections. It credits the AODA Alliance with new Ontario elections legislation, requiring Elections Ontario to post proposed polling station locations 6 months before the next election, and to get input from persons with disabilities on whether those locations are fully accessible.

This article also shows how beneficial it would be to have internet and telephone voting in elections. The AODA Alliance has spearheaded the campaign to get internet and telephone voting in Ontario, a campaign we must continue to
press. To learn what we have said about this in the past, and the resistance we
have met, visit:

* We set out below the transcript of the March 11, 2011 “Pod Rights” podcast by the Australian Human Rights Commission. It describes the virtues of internet and telephone voting, to be used in the Australian state of New South Wales.

When you read that transcript, you will wonder why Ontario is lagging so far behind New South Wales. Despite our efforts, the Ontario Government created legislative barriers last year to using these kinds of accessible voting options in Ontario provincial elections.

Making matters worse, Elections Ontario has flatly refused our request that it try internet and telephone voting in the October 2011 Ontario general election.
It is studying these technologies on a more leisurely schedule, and may never
recommend their adoption. For more background, you can also visit:


Send us your feedback. Write us


Toronto Star

April 30, 2011

It’s time to make polls fully accessible

Helen Henderson

Come Monday, it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll be tallying a few horror stories about barriers that prevent people with disabilities from exercising their right to vote.

It happens every election in every jurisdiction despite years of advocacy and laws that explicitly mandate accessibility. There’s no doubt things have been slowly improving. Yet many attitudes and physical environments still work against inclusion.

Among other things, no one who is deaf can be sure they will be able to communicate their wishes, those who use wheelchairs still may find their way impeded, and people who are blind have no means of independently
verifying that their vote has been assigned to the candidate of their choice.

And that’s just at the ballot box.

Even if all polling stations were perfectly inclusive, election legislation doesn’t govern campaigns.

“The last time I attended an all-candidates meeting … participants who wished to ask a question were required to write it on a card and put it into a box, which posed another barrier for me,” says John Rae, vice-president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.

Those responsible for overseeing federal, provincial and municipal voting “all lack the budget to fund services that would allow for full participation of deaf Canadians in electoral activities,” adds former MPP Gary Malkowski, special advisor to the president of the Canadian Hearing Society.

Maybe so. But some jurisdictions in last October’s municipal elections did find a better way. Their forays into telephone and Internet voting won kudos from accessibility advocacy groups. They also saved money and increased voter turnout from previous years. Something to think about when sending feedback to Elections Canada and its provincial counterparts.

“Absolutely, it was a success,” says Lorraine Brace, municipal clerk and manager of legislative services for the Town of Cobourg, which used telephone and Internet voting exclusively in October. “We even took touch screens to seniors’ homes, and many residents liked it so much they’ve been using computers ever since.”

Cobourg started testing telephone and Internet voting five years ago after it passed a bylaw and signed an agreement with Halifax-based Intelivote Systems, which has already worked successfully in Britain.

In 2003, the last time the town used the traditional voting system, total municipal election expenses were $81,627 and there was a 36 per cent turnout. In 2006, when Cobourg combined traditional voting with a phone and Internet system, election costs rose to $87,895 and voter turnout to 45 per cent.

But in 2010, when it switched totally to Internet and phone voting, costs dropped to $52,460 and turnout increased to 47 per cent, Brace reported to the mayor and council this month.

In addition to making the vote accessible to people with disabilities, Brace says it made life easier for everyone. “No coats, no boots, no parking, no weather or parking issues,” she says.

Nobody had to get up an hour earlier so they could vote before going to work. Nobody had to squeeze their trip to the polling station in between picking up the kids and getting dinner on the table.

No doubt the citizens of Cobourg will remember that when they trudge to the polls Monday, and go through it all again in October to vote in the provincial election.

Elections Ontario has publicly posted all the polling stations it plans to use, a right fought for by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. Voters can check them out and let administrators know by May 6 if they feel changes or relocations are necessary.

It’s time for phone and Internet voting to make all of this a thing of the past. Australia and some parts of Britain have solved security concerns and are converts. Surely it’s time for this country to move forward.

Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays.


Taken from


Graeme Innes: Hello and welcome to Pod Rights, a series of podcasts from the Australian Human Rights Commission. I am Graeme Innes, the Disability and Race Discrimination Commissioner.

An independent, verifiable, and secret ballot is one of the foundation stands underpinning Australian democracy. But most Australians are surprised when I point out to them that there are group of at least 300,000 Australians who until recently have not had an independent secret ballot. These are people who are blind or have low vision or who, for other reasons, can’t complete a ballot paper. But during the last few years this has started to change. As a blind person, I voted in secret at the last two federal elections. In 2007, I cast my vote on a stand alone computer using speech output, but these were only available in 29 polling places around the country. And in 2010 I gave my selections anonymously over the phone to a person working in a call center. This system was available in every electorate. But at the upcoming New South Wales State election, things will progress even

Joining me today to discuss these new developments are Tim Noonan and Judy Birkenhead. Tim focuses on making information and technology accessible to people with disabilities and has worked in this area for over 20 years. He was the usability expert on electronic voting with the Australian Electoral Commission in 2007 and has designed and developed many other voice access systems. Judy Birkenhead has worked on elections for 20 years around Australia and, interestingly, Judy in Fiji as well. She has been integral to the 2007 and 2010 election processes which I’ve just described and is currently seconded to the New South Wells Electoral Commission to support this project. So welcome both, Tim and Judy, to Pod Rights.

Tim Noonan: Thank you.

Judy Birkenhead: Thank you.

Graeme Innes: Now, firstly, Tim, why do we need these different voting processes? What’s the problem with the old pencil and paper system that we’ve all gone on well with for many, many years?

Tim Noonan: Well, certainly, for people who are blind or vision impaired or people without the physical disabilities, well, in fact, a whole range of disabilities, if you can’t read the ballot paper yourself and have to use someone else to interpret it for you and if you can’t mark the ballot paper yourself and need to instruct someone else to do that for you, then you cannot be certain that your hearing the ballot paper as it should be heard and that it is being marked as you require. Especially if you’re relying on a family member or a close friend to cast your vote, you may have not wished to let them know how you choose to vote, so you don’t have secrecy either.

Graeme Innes: Okay, so pretty — arguably a pretty strong reason to have these sorts of systems and it’s more cases now that we’ve got the technology of getting the support of politicians and officials to get them in place.

Tim Noonan: Absolutely. And with Australia being a part of the United Nations Persons with Disabilities — and with Australia being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disabilities, that Article 29 of that actually talks about being able to participate fully in social and political life and this is a big part of that.

Graeme Innes: Absolutely, yeah. Now, you’ve both been involved with these processes for some years. So how is this system different to other electronic voting processes that have occurred in Australia over the last three or four years?

Tim Noonan: In 2007, as you mentioned, you could go to one of 29 polling places around the country and use the technology to cast your vote. So it’s very hard to get to and very scarcely available. In 2010, you had to talk to a human and even though you didn’t know them and they didn’t know you, you didn’t really have full independence. You had to rely on someone else and you had to get a pre-polling center. In the 2011 New South Wales State Election, you will have the opportunity, if you’re eligible for the I Vote system, to vote from home over the telephone or the internet in a similar way that personal voting works.

Graeme Innes: So if it’s like personal voting, you’ve got to do it before the day of the election. Is that right?

Tim Noonan: Yes, that’s very important and definitely correct.

Graeme Innes: Okay. Now, Judy, from the Electoral Commission perspective rather than so much from the technical perspective, how can then I be sure that my vote is recorded and that my vote remains secret? How do I know once I’ve pressed the buttons on the telephone that those things are gonna occur?

Judy Birkenhead: Right. Well, when you dial for I Vote, you give us a six digit pin and then we send you an eight digit I Vote number. You need both of those numbers to be able to log into the I Vote system. When you log in, it’s your session and you can cast your vote from the privacy of your own home. When you submit your vote, it is then held on a database in encrypted format and it remains there until six p.m. on polling night. And on that night, all the votes are decrypted and they’re printed out and then sent to the returning officers for those local areas and counted with the other ballot papers.

Graeme Innes: So it’s kept in a computer in a central place.

Judy Birkenhead: Oh, yes, and we have excellent backup support. It’s actually spread over two data centers.

Tim Noonan: And there’s auditing as well that has ensured that it’s a secure process.

Graeme Innes: Sure, sure, and no one actually even looks at those votes until they’re printed out after the poll has closed.

Judy Birkenhead: Nobody can see the votes nor can they touch the database of votes until after that time.

Tim Noonan: And they’re also anonymous so it’s no — there’s no way to link that printed vote with who did the vote.

Graeme Innes: Right. And I suppose that they’re eventually linked so that you know who to send them to but that again happens after polling has been completed.

Judy Birkenhead: The votes, of course, are printed out in district order and they’re set off to the district returning officer. As far as the roll goes, your name is marked on the roll and the roll is headed back to the Electoral Commission so that you don’t get a non-voter’s notice.

Graeme Innes: Okay, so it’s just like a personal vote coming in from another electorate, isn’t it?

Judy Birkenhead: It’s exactly like a personal vote. It’s just that you can do it secretly and privately.

Graeme Innes: Okay, well, that’s pretty reassuring. Tim, take us through how it works. And I know you’ve actually got some demonstration audio to take us through that process. But how is it gonna work for me if I ring up to use this voting system?

Tim Noonan: Well, I should say, Graeme, there are two ways that you can use the I Vote service.

Graeme Innes: Okay.

Tim Noonan: One is the telephone and that’s what we’re going to hear in a moment and the other is over the internet, and you do need to, as Judy mentioned, you need to apply and be registered on I Vote in order to
actually — to vote. So it’s like registering for, yeah, for personal vote,
really. But, anyway, once you’re registered and you’ve been sent to your I Vote
number and you already have your pin, you can pick up the phone, call the
number, which is very easy to remember. It’s 1300 02, for New South Wales, 2011. And follow the prompts and then you enter your details and then the audio that we’ll hear in a second is an example of how you would go through some of the steps in order to cast your vote and you would then hear a receipt. Then,
basically, your vote is submitted. Once you’re happy with it, you push a key to
say please submit my votes, and then the job is complete.

Graeme Innes: Okay, let’s have a listen to that audio.


With I Vote people in New South Wales who previously couldn’t vote without
assistance can now fully participate with an accessible, secret, and verifiable

Do you know anyone who could use I Vote in the New South Wales State Election?

I Vote is available if you have a disability, have difficulties reading, and more than 20 kilometers from a polling place, or if you will be outside New South Wales on election day. To use I Vote you need to be on the electoral roll. You can
apply to use I Vote either on our website or by calling I Vote call center, 1300
02 2011.

Welcome to I Vote.

Applying for I Vote. You’ll be asked to supply a pin when you apply for I Vote either by web or by speaking with a call center agent through to the 23rd of March. You’ll receive your I Vote number in the post, by SMS, or email. Your I Vote number along with your pin will allow you to use I Vote either by web or by phone.

To assign this candidate a preference, press 5.

To cast your vote you can use I Vote by web or phone between the dates of 14 and 25 March. Anyone can practice or try using I Vote right up to polling day.

It feels like a bit of a funny thing to say that it’s cool to be able to vote but it really is because for the first time in New South Wales blind people are able to vote in the same way that everyone else can.

Remember, to find out more or to apply, go to the I Vote website, www.ivote.nsw, or you can call the I Vote call center on 1300 02
2011 or, if you’re outside Australia, call +612 9034 8999.

[End of Audio]

Graeme Innes: All right, well, that makes it nice and clear as to how it’s gonna operate. Judy, this process is different to those that we’ve had before because it’s available to people other than those who are blind or have low vision. In the previous elections the — at the federal level, the category of people who can utilize the system has been quite narrow. So who are in this broader category and how will it work for other people apart from people who are blind or have low vision?

Judy Birkenhead: Certainly. There’s a much larger group of people who can apply this time. People who are within the meaning of the Anti-Discrimination Act, unable to vote without assistance, or had difficulty to going to a polling place are able to apply for this, people who are living not within 12 kilometers of a polling place or people who will be outside of New South Wales on polling day.

Graeme Innes: Okay, so as well those people who can’t use the ballot paper and that might not be a person who’s blind or has low vision. It might be someone who physically can’t write or he can’t read from a printed ballot paper.

Judy Birkenhead: Yes.

Graeme Innes: Does it include people who, for accessibility reasons because they might have my ability disabilities, can’t get into the local polling booth?

Judy Birkenhead: Absolutely. Anyone who has difficulty getting to polling place or who cannot vote without assistance so, therefore, cannot have a secret vote, can use this system under that criteria.

Graeme Innes: So that’s a very broad category of people, isn’t it, even before you start with those other categories that you talked about, the people who are more than 20 kilometers from a polling booth or who are interstate on the day.

Judy Birkenhead: Yes, that’s right, and it’s terrific because now we’re not catering just for the blind but for anybody who’s not able to vote without assistance.

Graeme Innes: And will the process work the same way for all of those people as it does for people who are blind or have low vision?

Judy Birkenhead: Yes. It’s the same for all four criteria. So people need to apply for I Vote. And when they do apply, they give the pin and then we send them an I Vote number, but then they are able to either choose to vote by telephone or vote on the internet. It’s their choice, whoever suits them best. And they can use their own adaptive technologies at home or they can have their telephone online loudspeaker just like telephone banking to be able to complete their ballot in the comfort and the time that it takes them to do their secret vote.

Graeme Innes: Okay, well, you’ve talked about people applying. So, Judy, how do I apply? I want to use this system. I might be going interstate or I have a disability or I live on a property a long way from the nearest polling booth. What are the methods that I can use to apply for this and when can I start to apply?

Judy Birkenhead: Well, applications are open now. You must
be on the roll. That’s the first criteria. The roll is expected to close on the
7th of March. You can go to
and follow the prompts to the registration service which will allow you to find your name on the roll and then complete the application stating and declaring for one of those criteria, or you can telephone 1300 02 2011 and a call center operator will complete it for you. You make a declaration to the call center operator instead.

Graeme Innes: And that’s just declaring that, well, and I’ve already put in my applications or I understand the processes so just declaring my case that I’m a person who’s blind or has low vision but could be any of those criteria.

Judy Birkenhead: Yes, any of those four criteria, they make the declaration, give the pin, and give some information about being out to receive their I Vote number and then the application is complete.

Graeme Innes: So, well, in my case I’ve already received one email which confirms that I’ve put in the application. But soon or at some point sooner, I assume, I’ll get an email giving me my I Vote number.

Judy Birkenhead: That’s correct, Graeme. Once we close the roll and we know the voters that we have, we will generate the I Vote numbers. And if you’ve supplied an email address or a mobile phone number, we’ll send it to you that way, or if you’re a person who is in the vision impaired or the disability category and you don’t have either of those, we can even telephone you to tell your I Vote number.

Graeme Innes: Okay, and you send it out by mail as well.

Judy Birkenhead: We also send it out by mail to the enrolled address.

Graeme Innes: Which is reassuring because it means that someone can’t ring up and say they’re Graeme Innes and pitch my vote without me knowing.

Judy Birkenhead: No, absolutely. And, of course, even if they got the I Vote number, they don’t know your pin. That’s your secret.

Graeme Innes: Yeah, yeah. Now, finally, Tim, the idea of voting over a telephone is quite different to what many, many people have got used to over many years. How does that process work? I mean, I know we’ve heard the audio, but when you think about the ballot paper like the big upper house ballot paper, how is — how can it be intuitive enough so that I can do that without having the ballot paper in front of me?

Tim Noonan: Well, one of the things that Judy and I have both worked on early late last year was to develop a telephone voting standard. And the New South Wales I Vote System complies with that standard and in the process of developing that we worked very hard to create a way of having a logical representation of the ballot layout over the phone. So to move up and down between candidates, you press the 2 key to move up and 8 key to move down.
If you’re in the legislative council ballot, that’s got different groups, then
you use the 4 and 6 key to move across the ballot paper and the 2 and 8 keys to
move up and down. It’s sounds complex, but once you experiment a bit, and you
can practice vote as much as you want before the actual voting commences, you —
it is reasonably intuitive and in many ways, certainly for people who are blind
and have low vision who are used to audio information like telephone banking or accessing an ATM with speech or whatever, it’s quite intuitive.

The internet also allows you to — if you have Jewels or Window-Eyes or NVIDIA or other programs like that, you can also cast your vote accessibly over the internet, though it is actually harder to express, to represent the ballot paper through a screen reader than it is over the telephone because it is so huge. And the lot isn’t represented by screen readers of what’s up and what’s down and what’s left and what’s right. Over the telephone you know where you are in the ballot paper.

So it sounds complicated, but you can ring up and do a — just try it out. Anyone can try out I Vote over the phone to see what it’s like.

Graeme Innes: I wanted to come to that. So you dial the same number and you can practice.

Tim Noonan: Yes, exactly. So if you call 1300 02 2011, option 3 on that menu, even if you’re not eligible to use I Vote to vote, you can try out and see how it works.

Graeme Innes: Oh, okay. So if you were listening to this podcast and you had a parent or a friend with a disability who you knew was gonna utilize the system, you could ring up and have a bit of a practice with themselves so you could give them some support or advice before they cast their vote.

Tim Noonan: Exactly, and the same for the internet, Graeme.

Graeme Innes: Okay. Well, look, thanks, Judy and Tim. I’m excited about this I Vote developments and I’m sure that many others in New South Wales will be as well when March 26 comes up or, actually, just before March 26, isn’t it, because you can’t use them on election day. I wonder if this is just the start away from those — trend away from those little cardboard voting booths which we all spend time in every couple of years, but having worked and representing the Electoral Commission you’re probably not in a good position to comment on that. But I’m sure that there are some fascinating examples in this system for other states and for the federal government to follow in the future. So thanks very much for explaining it all to us today.

And thanks to all of you for listening to Pod Rights. Remember that this podcast is for you. So if you have a suggestion of someone with whom I should talk or a comment on the podcast, please email me at or find me and message me on Facebook or Twitter. Just look for Graeme Innes, G-R-A-E-M-E-I-N-N-E-S. And keep your podcatchers ready for the next pod rights in the series because human rights is for everyone, everywhere, every day. I’m Graeme Innes. Goodbye for now.