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The Globe and Mail

Visually impaired voters in B.C. given option to phone it in

From left to right: BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark, NDP Leader John Horgan, and Green Leader Andrew Weaver.


For Reed Poynter, not being able to see has made voting difficult.

Plastic templates that help visually impaired voters cast their ballots can slip, meaning the only way he could ensure he checked off the right candidate is to ask for help – and give up his privacy.

In the last federal election, staff at his polling station told him they didn't have any braille ballots; he was later told some officials just didn't know where they were.

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In contrast, Mr. Poynter, who has been blind since he was a child, was able to vote in advance of Tuesday's B.C. election simply by picking up the phone as part of an Elections BC pilot program that allows people with disabilities to vote from home.

"I thought that the experience was quite good. Their staff was polite, professional, very well done," said Mr. Poynter, a 67-year-old who lives in Langley, B.C., southeast of Vancouver.

"It beats the hell out of going to the polling station. Over the phone is more secure."

The 2017 election is the first in the province to allow telephone voting. The service launched in mid-April and, in the first 11 days, 555 voters used it, said Andrew Watson of Elections BC.

When someone calls in, operators verify their voter registration and ask if they have a disability as defined under the BC Elections Act. The type of disability doesn't need to be disclosed.

Voters are then assigned a number for privacy and then transferred to two voting operators – one administers the vote and the second acts as scrutineer.

Elections BC says it doesn't know if the program will be used in future elections, but so far the agency has only received positive responses.

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Before phone voting, partially sighted or blind voters could use large-sized poster ballots, braille ballots, plastic guides with braille and tactile markers down the sides, or bring someone along to assist.

While all advance polling stations are guaranteed to be physically accessible, some general election voting locations are not; for those, voters with disabilities can cast their ballots at the curb or parking lot.

Rob Sleath from Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers said there are several issues with these options. He says they might allow voters to mark independently and privately, but there was no way to verify it was marked correctly. After every election, he gets multiple phone calls about physical accessibility.

"That is one of the current downfalls in the current system," Mr. Sleath said. "People want to vote the same as you or anybody else, they don't want to be treated in a special way."

Greg Koyl, a 66-year-old retiree in Victoria, lost his sight in the past three years because of glaucoma. This is his first provincial election to vote while legally blind. In the federal election, he waited in line for more than 45 minutes and had to bring someone along to help him vote, while phone voting took only five minutes.

"I was quite pleased with how it unfolded," Mr. Koyl says. "People were very helpful and the service quality was in spades. It was a nice relief to think I could do it that way rather than have someone come along … to help me get my ballot."

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