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Broadening the electoral reform discussion


The Liberal government campaigned on electoral reform, promising “that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system” and that they “will make every vote count.” 

In addition, the Liberals promised to examine various options, including ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting. Groups like the Every Voter Counts alliance have mobilized in support of proportional representation to educate Canadians about its merits.

The disability community, like many other groups, is anxious to learn what the new government will propose and the process it will introduce. Moreover, it is seeking allies in support of expanding the discussion of voting reform to include needed improvements in accessibility to Canada’s electoral system.

Despite improvements that Elections Canada has instituted in the past, barriers remained in getting to, and getting into polls during the 2015 election.

For the blind community, for example, we remain unable to independently verify how we mark our ballots, and are seeking additional voting options for all electors, such as electronic machines, telephone or online ways to cast votes. In some jurisdictions in Canada, these options already exist, and have even replaced the paper ballot altogether, but we are seeking additional options, rather than to take away the paper ballot for those electors who prefer this method.

To make our electoral system truly accessible, several other areas not currently included in the Canada Elections Act deserve consideration:

 ·      Physically accessible campaign offices

 ·      Fully accessible candidates meetings held in accessible premises, with ASL/LSQ interpreters available upon request

 ·      Campaign materials available in multiple formats – large print, braille, electronic text and in plain language 

 ·      Disability-related costs for candidates exempt from campaign finance limits

Casting one’s vote in an election has been described as the most important act any citizen performs in a democracy. Thus, while replacing the first past the post voting method has been the focus of electoral reform discussions to date, these discussions must be expanded to include making whatever system is ultimately adopted fully accessible so that all Canadians will feel comfortable and interested in casting their ballot every time an election is called.

John Rae is 2nd Vice Chair of the Council of Canadians With Disabilities.

Photo: Javier Robles. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0