I was going to write about this anyway, but then I got a request for it. Awesome! People like reading about our wacky adventures. I feel bad that this is only going up the night before the actual election day, so can’t help anyone else who might want to use assistive voting, but oh well.
We’ve talked numerous times about the awesomeness that is voting with the accessible voting machines. What isn’t awesome is how hard they are to get to, or how hard it is to get good information out of Elections Ontario about where to find them, at least in the case of this election. Let me explain just what Steve and I had to go through.
First, I looked up the Elections Ontario website and rooted out the part about assistive voting technology. In fact, it did say that it was available at all returning offices and satellite offices. There was no mention of advance polling locations or regular polling stations on election day. So I had it confirmed. They may be making it easier to cast an independent ballot, if you can get to your prescribed location. But they weren’t making it as convenient and available as voting is for the average joe. It would not be a few blocks away where the advanced polls are, and it certainly wouldn’t be available election day.
So, next, I tried to figure out just where this returning office was. After a little fun with google maps, I figured out that it was, in effect, out in the middle of nowhere. I simulated the location in my GPS app, and the app started talking about heritage farms off in the distance, but within its search radius. When it starts talking about *farms*, you know you’re not exactly in the middle of a buzzing hive of activity.
So next, I called transit to figure out if there was a stop nearby. There was one, sort of, but the road had no sidewalk, and I would have had to walk a fair distance from the bus to get to this spot. Maybe this would be fine if I was familiar with the area, but I wasn’t, and didn’t feel like getting supremely lost.
There was one other bus stop that was closer, but it was only serviced by an industrial route that ran with the express purpose of getting people to and from work. So, it ran really early in the morning before the office was open for business, and around the 5:00 rush. If I were to take that bus, that would have really limited my times to vote, and with me coming from work in another part of the city, may have made it impossible.
Let’s step back and think about this. This is supposed to be the prime spot for folks with disabilities who need to either use audio, sip and puff, or paddles, to vote. Just how many people would have been able to get out there? Bunches of us don’t drive. Yes there’s paratransit, but if you do that, you have to book your time to vote a few days in advance so you can get a ride, and then you have to sit at the polls for a minimum of an hour after you’ve been dropped off. Just how often does it take a regular human being an hour to vote?
Ok, so we’ve established that the location is ridiculous. I thought I would call said ridiculous location and verify that they indeed had the machines. I also wanted to verify that headphones would be provided…or did I have to bring my own? Good lord. First they tried to tell me that I was asking about special ballots, then they tried to tell me that they didn’t know what I was talking about, and then finally, they said “Oh, we do have some kind of a machine over there…don’t know much about it though…” They couldn’t even answer my headphones questions. Hello, go over and *look* at the machine, would ya please? Finally they tried to tell me I could show up at their place that night and vote. Um, how about no? The machines were only available after June 1, and this was the last week of May.
I was getting frustrated with this sad lack of information, so I called 1-888-ONT-VOTE. This was supposed to be Elections Ontario info headquarters. What I got there was even worse. They first didn’t know what I was talking about at all, then they tried to tell me that the machines would be at every polling station, and held to that assertion even when I asked them to double triple check. It’s a good thing I’m not one to simply trust people straight off, something that’s reasonable to do, because if I did, I would have shown up at the far more convenient polling station only to find a distinct lack of machines or knowledgeable workers about said machines.
I did a wee bit more googling and found this AODA Alliance page, complete with letters from Elections Ontario. Specifically, this little gem was of interest to me.
Assistive Voting Technology (AVT) is available in returning offices and satellite offices during advance voting and until the day before voting day. As the Chief Electoral Officer noted in his letter to you on December 2, 2010, the Election Act only allows for alternative voting equipment to be stationed in returning offices. Because of the geographic size of some electoral districts, many Returning Officers, under the direction of the Chief Electoral Officer, set up satellite returning offices to ensure all electors in an electoral district can more conveniently access returning office services throughout the writ period.
Since I was now thoroughly confused, I decided to email Elections Ontario, and see if I could get something that agreed with something else. I had returning officers who thought I wanted a special ballot and were directing me to their obscure location to vote way earlier than was possible, and info vote people telling me I could vote with the machine on election day and at advance polls. Somebody had to agree with somebody.
At long last, I got an email that said yes, I would have to go to my returning office to use the Assistive Voting Technology, and yes headphones would be provided.
With that out of the way, we had the task of figuring out just how we would get there. We decided that we would bus to the Forest Glen terminal, and then cab to the middle of nowhere returning office location. But to make it extra fun, I was coming from work, and Steve was at home. These were at 2 different parts of the city. So, we had to get two different buses, and then find each other, and then arrange our cab.
Luckily, when we finally got out to the location of the returning office, we only had one more set of hoops to jump through, that being there unfamiliarity with where to send us to find the machine. The first woman sent us to the special ballot office, at which point the man said “…and why are you here to see me?” When we told him, he shepherded us back from whence we came, and set the lady straight. After she got out the machine, all went off swimmingly.
At this point, the woman said we were the first 2 people to use the assistive voting technology, and more people need to know about it, because if they’re not used well enough, well…they might not be available. I tried to explain to her that part of the problem is that they’re not widely available, and there’s so much misinformation about where to go to use them, but well, she didn’t have time to hear things like that, and what was she going to do about it? She was probably just working there for those few days and that’s it. She told me to write something in the suggestion box outside. Yeah…I’ll get right on that.
After we left, we turned on the GPS again just to see what it could find. You want to know what it found? The church which contained our returning office, and that was it. Nothing else could be found for at least a half a mile. So yeah, we were sure we were in the middle of nowhere. So, we cabbed back home since getting the bus would for sure be trouble.
And in comparison to some people I know, we had it easy. I was trying to help one friend vote with the machines, and discovered that she was being expected to drive 26 km to another town. This friend is blind, so doesn’t drive, and doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around at 26-km journeys in cabs. For her, the machines might as well not exist. In the end, she chose to go down to the advanced poll and get help to mark her x. Even if those machines could have helped her vote privately and independently, it was by no means easy for her to access them.
I think part of the problem was this election was thrown together when the budget was voted down, and then everyone was in scramble mode. It was grab returning offices where you can, rent whatever you can rent, train employees as fast as you can, and let’s do this thing. And because of that, accessibility took a backseat. I saw another story of a guy in a wheelchair who couldn’t even get into his polling station, and in that case, Elections Ontario even admitted that the snap election call didn’t make it possible for them to have an accessible spot.
I hope, when they keep stats on how well the accessible voting machines were used, that they take into account the crappy locations of returning offices, and the fact that the staff were probably not properly trained in directing voters to the right place. I say this because I wasn’t the only one who got told the complete falsehood that the machines were available at advance polls and election day. I can think of at least 2 others who were told the same. Luckily I could get to them in time.
Most people aren’t as persistent as me. If they found out the returning office was far, or wound up at the advanced polls and found no machine, they would just do it the old way, either having someone mark their x on their behalf or using the so-called braille template or the old ways that they would prefer less, just because they’re already there, or it would be too hard to get to another polling location on another day. It’s not because they’re truly choosing not to use the machines. It’s more that getting to these few and far between locations is just too hard for them given what transportation options they have. This is why only having the machines in the returning offices and satellite offices, in my opinion, is unacceptable.
I love how Elections Ontario talks about how huge electoral districts had satellite offices too. Do you want to know where our satellite office was? It was in Elmira! That’s a little town that’s barely on the transit radar. My friend being directed 26 km, as far as I know, didn’t even have a satellite office to use, and if she did, nobody made me aware of it even after my protests of “That’s too far! It’s not even in the same town!” So how do these other locations actually help to make it easier for people who might have limited transportation options to get out and vote independently? They didn’t think this accessibility thing all the way through, and it shows.
To make a long story short, Steve and I voted, and were happy to use the machine to vote, but it was neither easy nor convenient to get to the machine. Elections Ontario really needs to do better on the accessibility front next election. This was nothing short of an epic disaster.
So, to everyone else who hasn’t voted yet, I hope you get out and vote. And I hope I don’t hear a soul complain about how it was so hard to vote, the lines were so long, why bother, etc. Look at what Steve and I had to do to vote. If you can drive up to the polling station around the block from your house, and that’s too hard, that says something. Please, please, please, get out and mark your x. I know it is a stupid time for an election, I know the choices probably don’t look too inspiring. I know it sucks. But pleasepleaseplease get out there and do it.
Yeesh that was an epic. I hope the person who requested it didn’t get more than they bargained for.