Changes to the Canada Elections Act may Increase Accessibility of Federal Elections

By Lila Refaie, Bilingual Intake Lawyer and Student Programs Lead

The Canada Elections Act (“Act”) governs the rules Elections Canada must follow when there is a federal election. The Act was amended by Bill C-76 in December 2018 and is now in force. The new rules will be implemented as soon as the next general election in October 2019.

Bill C-76 introduced a great number of changes to the Act. Of the many changes, some relate to the rights of electors with disabilities.

Elections Canada must ensure that any communications, public education or other materials available to the public are accessible to persons with disabilities. This includes information about the way someone can become a candidate or how an elector can vote during the election period.

The format of the ballot has also been redesigned in a way that is more accessible for electors with disabilities. According to Elections Canada, the new design improves the readability of the ballot and facilitates the optical character recognition (OCR) by screen readers. For more information about the redesigned ballot, go to: https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=ele&dir=2019ge&document=index?=e#10

You can access a detailed report prepared by Elections Canada about this new design by going to: https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/tech/bal&document=index?=e

Elections Canada must now ensure that polling stations are available for all electors with disabilities

Elections Canada now has a mandate to secure “accessible” polling stations, both for the official polling day and advance polling days. This encompasses much more than its previous mandate, which was limited to ensuring the polling station was “level access”. This mandate has also been expanded to the local offices of the returning officer. The registration card, which is sent to all electors during the election period and holds the information about the location of the assigned polling station, will now include information on whether or not the stated polling station is accessible. In a situation where the designated polling station is not accessible for an elector with a disability, that elector can request a transfer certificate to a different polling station.

The availability of at-home voting has been expanded to electors with disabilities, irrespective of the nature of their disability. In some circumstances, an elector with a disability may have the option to vote from home. Previously, this option was limited to only those with physical disabilities who were unable to attend a polling station to vote; this option has now been expanded to any elector with a disability, irrespective of the nature of their disability.

Furthermore, any elector with a disability can make a request for accommodations in order to exercise their right to vote. Both a transfer certificate and requests for accommodations are available to any elector with a disability. These changes represent a broader approach to accessibility than the previous elections legislation. The previous legislation limited these requests to electors with physical disabilities, whereas now they apply to all electors with disabilities regardless of the nature of their disability.

Candidates and political parties will be reimbursed for accommodations provided to persons with disabilities during the election period

A financial incentive has been added for candidates, and more generally for political parties, to ensure that electors with disabilities wishing to attend political events can be accommodated by the event organizer. During the election period, candidates and registered parties have a set budget they can use for their campaigns, including expenses related to campaign events. These expenses are reimbursed by the federal government up to the maximum amount stated in the Act. Before Bill C-76 was introduced, candidates and registered parties had to include costs related to requests for accommodations for electors with disabilities attending their events. Now, the amended Act has introduced new rules related to the amount of expenses allowed, particularly related to accommodation costs. Any expenses related to accommodations or accessibility measures will now be reimbursed separately from the allotted campaign budget. This means that candidates and registered parties will not prioritize campaign expenses over accommodation expenses for their events or campaign materials. These new rules will effectively encourage candidates and registered parties to be more inclusive during the election period.

Elections Canada must develop or obtain voting technologies to assist electors with disabilities

As a final important change, the new legislation also includes a commitment to develop, obtain, or adapt voting technologies to enable electors with disabilities to vote independently. This means that Elections Canada will now have an explicit obligation to develop ways to make the voting process more accessible for electors with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities, particularly persons in the blind and vision disability communities, have been advocating for years for the right to vote independently and in secret. The use of appropriate technology in federal elections would greatly help to achieve this goal.

For more information about Bill C-76 and other changes it made to the Canada Elections Act, go to: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=med&dir=c76&document=index?=e

For more information about accommodations available to electors with disabilities, go to: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=spe/tools&document=index?=e

To access Elections Canada’s current accessibility policy, go to: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=spe/policy&document=index?=e

Original at https://archdisabilitylaw.ca/arch_alert/arch-alert-volume-20-issue-2/