Elections Saskatchewan is committed to removing barriers to participation in the electoral process. In planning for the 2016 general election, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) addressed the legislative changes in The Election Amendment Act, 2014 and considered the findings from the consultation carried out with the Electoral Accessibility Initiative.
The following outlines Elections SK’s Accessibility Implementation Plan for the 28th General Election and the support and services that were available to people with disabilities.
4.1 VOTING OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES
The passage of The Election Amendment Act, 2014 has increased opportunities for individuals to vote at provincial elections, including those who are unable to vote on election day at one of around 3000 polling places across the province. The following outlines the range of options for voters, including those with disabilities, to vote in the 28th General Election:
Homebound voting – The option of voting from home will be available to voters who can provide evidence that they are unable to vote at an advance poll or on polling day due to a disability or that they have a caregiving role for a disabled voter. Having determined that the applicant is eligible, the returning officer will arrange for a homebound voting package to be delivered to them. Homebound voting will be administered by an election official.
Advance poll voting qualifications – All voters, including voters with disabilities, now have the opportunity to vote at advance polls without providing a reason. With this change, people with disabilities will be treated the same as all voters.
Mobile polls – The Election Act, 1996 provides for mobile polls to be taken to a care facility where the returning officer determines that there are special or unusual circumstances, subject to the approval of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Hospital and remand centre polls – Elections SK establishes polls at hospitals and remand centres across the province.
Absentee voting (vote by mail) – Voters who are unable to vote at an advance poll or on election day can vote by mail.
4.2 POLLING PLACE ACCESSIBILITY
In April 2015, Elections SK hosted a two-day conference for returning officers and election clerks representing all 61 constituencies. As part of this, training was provided to participants on accessibility requirements for returning offices and polling locations as well as how to set up
a polling place to meet the specific needs of disabled voters. Returning officers were then required to perform an assignment to identify accessible returning offices and polling locations to be used in the next general election. A plan was required for any location that did not meet the accessibility criteria.
Polling place accessibility – Returning officers identify prospective polling locations well in advance of the election. They must conduct an assessment of each location against the following accessibility criteria:
• Allocated parking spaces, where available, close to entry for voters with disabilities;
• Level access to the building;
• Appropriate signage;
• Doors and passageways comply with current width, clearance and threshold requirements; and
• Adequate lighting.
Polling place adjustments – In situations where an accessible polling place cannot be identified, action will be taken if possible to make the location more accessible, such as adding ramps and mats to door entrances.
Regular reviews of polling places during voting – A checklist will be provided to poll officials at all polling places. This will include confirmation that the site remains accessible and safe at various points while polls are open for voting. In some situations, a polling place cannot be made accessible if situations arise unexpectedly during voting, Elections SK will assign additional information officers to provide the necessary assistance to people with disabilities at the front entrance to a building. This will ensure that opportunities such as curb side voting are immediately identified and provided to voters requiring this option.
Curb side voting – In instances where the polling place is not accessible, curb side voting may be made available to voters. In certain circumstances, the deputy returning officer will take the poll book, the voters list, a declaration in the prescribed form, a ballot paper, a pencil and notepaper outside the polling place to facilitate a person with disabilities to mark their ballot.
Information officers at polling places – An information officer will be at all polling places to provide directions and assistance to voters, including disabled voters, immediately when they arrive. These individuals will receive sensitivity training as they will be the first point of contact for voters at polling places.
Temporary disabled parking signs – Polling day officials will be provided with a supply of temporary disabled parking signs to be used as required at polling places.
Supplemented lighting in the voting booths – A supply of temporary lamps will be included in polling place supplies and available in the event that the lighting in any polling station needs to be enhanced.
4.3 PRODUCTS AND SERVICES AT POLLING STATIONS
Elections SK recognizes that many voters want to attend a polling place in person to cast their ballot. The following actions have been taken to accommodate people with disabilities at polling places.
Disability sensitivity training – Around 10,000 temporary election workers will receive training on how to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities. Disability sensitivity training for all election officials will be provided through a training video. This will ensure instructions are consistently delivered. In addition, a video is being developed for use by the public, which will also provide an opportunity for poll official refresher training. This will be available on the Elections SK website in fall 2015.
Manuals for poll officials will include instructions on how to assist voters with disabilities and emphasize the role of poll workers in supporting people with disabilities at the polling place, if required.
Assistance at the polling station – Deputy returning officers are permitted to assist a voter either inside or outside the voting station. They must mark the ballot paper in the manner directed by the voter in the presence of the poll clerk and of the candidate’s representatives in the polling place, and remove and destroy the counterfoil.
Voter can be assisted in depositing ballot into ballot box – Recent amendments permit the deputy returning officer, the voter, or the voter’s accompanying friend to deposit the ballot in the ballot box.
Act as friend – An individual may act as the friend to assist at the polls for two voters, previously this was limited to one voter.
Sign language interpreters –The Election Act, 1996 provides for sign language interpreters to assist voters at polling places.
Paratransit services – Elections SK will notify municipal transit systems offering paratransit services of the days when voting will be taking place. Advance notice will allow individuals requiring transportation to make the appropriate arrangements and the transit authorities to make any adjustments in order to meet the increased demand.
Directional signs – Additional directional signage will be available at all voting locations. Contrast is one of the most critical factors in enhancing visual functioning, with yellow on a dark background being easier to read.
Assistive tools at polling stations – All polling stations will have the following supplies available on request:
• Pencil grips
• Paper and clipboards
• Braille ballot template
4.4 VOTER INFORMATION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION
Effective communication to stakeholders is essential to a successful election. Elections SK is putting in place a communications plan which includes reference to accessibility services and support. The following outlines some of the key activities that will be employed in the upcoming election.
Outreach strategy – Ongoing relationships with the disability community and seniors groups will enable us to
disseminate relevant election information to a wide range of stakeholders. These relationships will also facilitate receiving valuable feedback from these stakeholders after the election.
Voter Information Cards (VIC) - A VIC will be sent to each voter on the Preliminary Voters List before election day. In addition to other information, such as date and time of the election, the VIC will inform voters of the accessibility of advance poll locations.
Materials available in alternative formats – To better assist people with disabilities, the Voters Guide and voter education materials will be available in a range of languages and formats, including electronic, audio and larger text format.
Election website – Elections SK launched an updated website in August 2014. The site has been designed to meet current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and contains the following accessibility features:
• Compatibility with screen readers;
• Colours that contrast each other (luminosity contrast ratio); and
• Plain language to make it reader friendly.
Radio advertising – Advertising of election information will include radio broadcasting (audio format).
Training and qwareness videos – Elections SK has produced videos with closed captioning. These videos focus on voter eligibility, acceptable ID to vote, ways to vote and election officer positions.
People-first language – All communications material, such as advertising and public education material, will use people-first language. People-first language puts the person before their condition or disability, for example ‘a person with a visual disability’ rather than ‘a blind person’.
Customer feedback – Feedback or complaints can be made by telephone, in writing, by email, in person, or through other reasonable methods.
Teletype (TTY) Services – This audio service enables people with hearing loss to access information by telephone. TTY is available at Elections SK head office during business hours. TTY will also be available through Elections SK’s public call centre during enumeration and the election period.