Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Accessibility, Voter ID Regulations, & the Upcoming Election

One important aspect of the electoral process and accessibility that will play a significant role in the upcoming federal election is how changes within the Fair Elections Act will impact disabled voters. Traditionally voter information cards have been used by a significant number of Canadians to identify themselves at the polls, specifically voters who lack other forms of identification. In the last election, 400,000 Canadians relied on voter information cards as a form of identification. 

While possessing ID may not seem to be a barrier to some, there are a number of individuals and groups that this creates real barriers for, including people who don’t drive, people who cannot afford fees associated with acquiring some forms of ID, and those who face barriers accessing government offices. In the US, voter ID legislation has already significantly impacted disabled and older voters, and research indicates turnout among these same groups will likely continue decrease under these measures. On the issue of voter turnout, it's worth noting that in Canada we have already seen significant changes to the electoral process since 1997 that have dramatically impacted turnout, and these new measures will likely exacerbate this trend. 

While these most recent changes in the Fair elections Act were packaged as a way to cut down on voter fraud, there is little to no evidence that voter fraud was an issue in previous elections. In fact, the government has based a large part of its case on what they claim were the findings of an expert hired by Elections Canada, Harry Neufeld. Yet, in his report Neufeld recommended that Elections Canada simplify their paperwork and more importantly, utilize the same Voter Information cards the Fair Elections Act will no longer allow. Of note, Neufeld has filed an affidavit in which he reaffirms that voter fraud is in fact extremely rare in Canada and that these new rules pose a significant barrier to many potential voters, including those who reside in long-term care facilities, students, and those living on reserve. 

For disabled voters these new measures pose a significant barrier as well as many lack the necessary IDIn fact, Elections Canada’s own research related to aging and electoral participation notes anecdotal evidence that suggests ID requirements present significant barriers, especially to those residing within long-term care facilities. With young disabled adults increasingly finding themselves in long-terms care facilities, these new regulations are troubling. In a time when we should be making the voting process more accessible to disabled people, regulations within the Fair Elections Act are in fact creating more barriers. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Disability & the Federal Election

Canadians have been thrust into the longest elections campaign in Canadian history. As with other elections, some of the key issues where disability is concerned include inclusion of disability issues in party platforms and debates, as well as how accessible the political process is for disabled voters. Sadly on both fronts we have a long way to go.

For those interested in steps Elections Canada has taken to make voting more accessible, check out their resources and policies.  While accessibility on voting day is a part of the issue, making the political process more accessible is a larger and more complex process and there are  key barriers we must confront in order to do this.

First, we know that many disabled persons still face significant barriers that likely result in their exclusion from the electoral process. For example, those living in institutional settings, group homes, and with parents may not be actively supported in this aspect of their lives.  Antidotal evidence indicates many disabled adults are prevented form taking part in the political process because of a lack of control around decision making coupled with attitudinal barriers that falsely suggest some disabled persons are incapable of making an informed political decisions. Here it is important to note that in Canada voting is still a relatively new opportunity, for example citizens with intellectual disabilities were disqualified from voting in federal election until 1988. This means many voting-aged adults with intellectual disabilities were born at a time when their right to participate politically was not guaranteed. In addition to how this might impact how notions of citizenship and participation are internalized,  this may also influence the extent to which an individual's existing support system may value, promote, and facilitate this right.  

Second, with respect to representation, historically our major political parties have done a poor job where disability issues are concerned. In fact, accessibility and inclusion often seem more like token gestures rather than a core element within political platforms and policy design. We still lack disabled candidates on the ballot, and there are significant barriers that prevent disabled persons from volunteering in the campaign process. This means disability remains excluded from the larger political process itself. 

The barriers noted above are just the tip of the iceberg, but begin to illustrate how exclusion operates with respect to the political participation. In part though these may help explain why disabled persons are 20% less likely to vote, as well as why decreasing voter participation remains high among disabled persons

These issues do matter and making making the political process more accessible and inclusive requires work.  There is no excuse for these barriers to remain, and with ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2010, Canada has a duty to enable this political participation. The question remains, can we leverage the time granted to us under the longest election campaign in Canadian history to make sure disabled voters and their needs are fully included this time around? 

To learn more about disability and the electoral process check out the following links:  

More Than Voting Booths: Accessibility of Electoral Campaigns for People with Disabilities in Ontario (McColl, 2015).

Enabling the Voter Participation of Canadians with Disabilities: Reforming Canada’s Electoral System (Prince, 2014)