When Dylan Earis went to the polling station in Regina for the 2015 federal election, all he wanted to do was vote, a right he shares with other Canadian citizens.
Exercising it at the last federal election turned out to become a challenge for the 26-year-old university student. Earis has cerebral palsy which affects his ability to move, like walking or writing.
“I went with my mom on election day,” said Earis.
“They allowed my mom to go back there with me, but that was to only help me get seated. They wouldn’t let her help mark the X. I did as best I could to mark it, but I had trouble getting it in the box. I’m pretty sure my ballot was spoiled.”
According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians 15 years-of-age and older had one or more disabilities in 2017.
Over the years, Elections Canada has been introducing different services and initiatives to make voting more accessible for all Canadians. Since 2014 it has worked with the Advisory Group for Disability Issues. Matthew McKenna from Elections Canada knows there is still room for improvements.
“It’s a shame that that is what happened to the elector cause that’s not how it is supposed to go down,” said McKenna when he heard about Earis’s incident at the 2015 election.
“Assistance in marking your ballot is sort of a standard service offering, and what we say to electors who might need or want help marking their ballot is that they are more than welcome to bring their support person … so the person who is helping an elector mark their ballot just has to sign an oath basically saying that they uphold the secrecy of that person’s vote.”
McKenna encourages Canadians to give Elections Canada their feedback on what did or did not work in 2019 so it can make changes for the next election.
Contacting Elections Canada was exactly what Amber Boyd did after her disappointing experience in an advance poll this year. The low-vision specialist from Vision Loss Rehabilitation Saskatchewan is legally blind since birth.
“They are supposed to help you to get to the different tables,” said Boyd. “No one offered me an arm or any assistance.”
Things became even more complicated when Boyd wasn’t provided with a special voting template which was supposed to be available for blind or partially sighted electors.
“I went behind the voting area and just made it work,” said Boyd. “I hope I got the right one.”
Boyd talked to friends in Regina and is glad she seems to be an exception.
After reading about some of the changes Elections Canada introduced to make the 2019 election more accessible, Earis is curious to see how his experience will be this year.
“Able-bodied people, they can just show up and mark the ‘X’ no problem,” said Earis. “Why can’t we do that?”