Ballot Box Protest on Voting Day

Canadians go to the polls on Tuesday. The Canadian election has been overshadowed by the huge political wrangling going on in the United States. I think Americans are about as aware of OUR immanent election, as they are of our Thanksgiving Day (not anytime near the American Thanksgiving Day, but on Monday, October 13th, one day before our election) However, we in the True North, are heavily and painfully kept in the loop of US political buzz. Canucks were split last week when faced with the dilemma of watching  Palin and McCain square off, or tuning in to the televised Canadian leaders debate. American politics definitely has more drama, glitz and pzazz.  The US process also goes on and on,  like a grim death march, unlike the mercifully quick shenanigans in the North. Frankly, I don’t know how Americans survive two years or more of primaries etc. (or sanction the obscene amount of money spent to hold them).  I’ve listened to the  Canadian political ads for less than two MONTHS and I am fed up. Not that it matters in the least, because on voting day, I will not have the opportunity to exercise my democratic right to vote in the same way that other Canadians will cast their ballots at the polls in that,  A BALLOT  IS INTENDED TO BE CAST:  SECRETLY, INDEPENDANTLY AND TO BE VERIFIABLE. There will be no option for electronic voting in Canada.  There is no telephone voting either. Voting machines? No such thing here. Not even a Braille ballot for the handful of blind people who can read Braille.  No, the best accessibility option that Elections Canada will offer me on Tuesday is their  infamous “Template”. They  proudly whip out this ridiculous piece of plastic with holes in it, at every election, whenever a blind person enters a polling station. For some reason, it has been accepted by blind people for years.   Here’s how it works. The ballot is inserted into the plastic template. There are holes that line up with each candidate’s name on the ballot.  A friend, or DRO (Deputy Returning Officer) reads off the order of candidates as they appear on the ballot. The blind person is then left behind the screen (Ooo, this must be our right to secrecy being observed) to mark an X in one of the holes (Ooo, this must be our Independence being respected), and hope that they have remembered which name is supposed to be in which  hole, or that the ‘reader’ got the sequence right in the first place! You can forget any delusions you may have  that you can verify your own ballot if you are blind.  At this point, the friend or polling clerk returns to help fold the ballot (no one can figure out how to accomplish that without reading the how-to instructions on the ballot) and takes the blind person to the ballot box, where a minor fanfare is made of allowing the blind person to deposit the ballot  into the ballot box all by him or herself. Elections officials will go to bed on Tuesday night, feeling all warm and fuzzy that all Canadians have participated equitably in the democratic process. Hmm. I heard a story on the news today which made me smile. It seems that a man in Pictou county was arrested on voting day at the past two federal elections. The first time, he stole a ballot box, took it outside and drove his truck over it. The second time, he stole another box and hurled it into a lagoon. He calls himself the “ballot box bandit” and is allegedly protesting  inequitable compensation payments for industrial waste cleanups…I’m not going to be stealing any ballot boxes, but I will make my point on election day.  How? I’m not sure yet, but at the very least, I will vote secretly, independently and it won’t matter if I can verify my ballot or not, because I am going to SPOIL it by whatever means I choose. I will not do this with a light heart, because I DO care who is elected (and certainly, that Stephen Harper does NOT win a majority government)  but  no one is reading my ballot to me! The eroneous expectation that Elections Canada holds, that they will have fulfilled their obligation of providing  me and other blind Canadians with a democratic and accessible vote by offering a useless template, is NOT going to cut it with me this time.


5 responses to “Ballot Box Protest on Voting Day

  1. While I might be American, I am aware of Canadian Thanksgiving, and I do pay attention to Canadian elections. Doesn’t hurt to be aware of global matters and other societies. We are all on one planet, after all.

    Sure, I might be in the minority in this regard, but you’d be suprized how large that so-called minority is becoming. Besides, the way the States is going, I may need to relocate, and Canada seems the best option. I’m pathetic when it comes to dealing with cold weather, though. Winter here can remain up in the 20C to 30C degree range. (That’s 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.)

    Would like to point out that Canadian politics can get quite heated, too. For instance, Dion and Harper keep implicating that Bad Things Will Happen only if you elect the other guy. In the American election, opponents O’Bama and McCain have both said something to the effect that the economy will continue to suffer before it gets any better; no matter who wins. That neither side is capable of solving anything is one thing that they can both agree on. However, Palin and McCain squaring off against each other is news to me, since they’re on the same side. Anyway, there are certainly examples of Canadian election drama. Paul Martin and the no-confidence vote. Jean Chrétien and the sponsorship. Denis Pronovost and, well, do I really need a description here?

    Harper insists that “the fundamentals of Canadian economy is strong”, but I’m fairly sure that if the US plummeted into a second Depression, Canada would be affected as well. I won’t be seeking refuge in Canada any time soon. Though, it’s getting so bad here that Mexico’s planning on building a large wall to keep out the US illegals!

    I’ve yet to see one of the Canadian candidates seriously discuss what would happen in Canada if the US economy doesn’t recover, and their plans for dealing with these consequences.

    Anyway, I didn’t want to chat for so long about politics. I wanted instead to cover voting accessibility.

    For a comparison, here is our process in my city for casting a ballot if blind or visually impaired:

    Step 1: Insert blank paper ballot into an electronic machine designed for this process. If you have inserted a ballot which is already marked, the machine refuses the ballot. This prevents another person from handing you a filled ballot and passing it off as a clean ballot.

    Step 2: The machine reads the ballot to you. The screenreader built into the machine can be adjusted in volume and pitch. It is quite simple to use. If you are unable to figure it out, the machine will give you instructions on how to operate it when you place your ballot into the slot. These instructions can be read in several different languages. In addition, you can press the Help button at any time for a quick reminder.

    Step 3: Since the machine uses headphones, your votes can not be overheard by anyone else. The machine has a visual display which can be used. This visual display is shielded and can not be viewed from an angle. It is located in an easy to find position, and is situated with a wall behind the voter. This minimizes shoulder surfing. It can be magnified for people who can read magnified letters. Also, there’s a braille display attached. This means that deaf-blind users are able to independantly cast a ballot by using the same machine.

    Step 4: By manipulating the buttons on the machine, you can scroll through the list of candidates. Once you select a candidate, the candidate’s name is read aloud, and it asks you to confirm your vote.

    Step 5: Once all votes are locked in, the machine will then read out a summary, which lists all of the positions and the selected candidate for that position. At any time, you can return to any position and select a different candidate. The computer will also warn you if you have skipped a position without selecting a candidate.

    Step 6: Once you have finalized your votes, the machine marks your ballot and returns it to you. You then place the paper ballot inside an automated counter. No folding is needed. At no point does a sighted person handle, touch, or look at your ballot, even at a glance. The paper ballot is just inserted into a slot on another machine which tallies the votes. The machine has an audible and visual indicator to show that it has accepted your ballot. Sighted people do the same thing with their paper ballots. The only difference is that you use a machine to mark your ballot, rather than using the standard pen.

    Step 7: Once processed, the paper ballot for sighted people is indistinguishable from one produced with the computer’s aid. It is not possible for someone to take up all the ballots and compare them to determine whether the vote was cast by a blind person, even if you were the only blind person in the city. Therefore, the vote can never be traced back to you, even by poll staff. The computer does not keep a record of ballots, but merely marks the ballot. Once the ballot is marked, it discards any information recorded. Since the computer does not keep information, it is impossible for someone to determine the voting tendencies of blind voters based on the votes done with that machine. Furthermore, you can always ask for a new paper ballot if you suspect that your vote was altered in some way.

    At any time during this process, there’s a trained technician on hand. This technician has no other job but to repair the machine and assist people with using it. He is not able to peek at the votes being cast, nor is anyone else.

    This process allows a truly independant, verifiable, and secret vote. In addition, it helps elderly citizens, citizens with poor vision, and citizens who cannot grasp or hold pens.

    This isn’t just a curteousy provided to me by my town, either. It is mandated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which is a federal law. A state may lose federal funding if any county within the state does not comply.

    This law was passed back in 2000, and also removed punch card voting and lever systems, which were problematic. It had a deadline of 2 years, by which time all states were required to have and implement a working system which allowed truly independant voting during federal elections. This system was not required to be used in local elections. However, since the machine is already there, most places already use it for local elections as well, and states are free to create their own policy for local voting accessibility. However, any state policy is overrided by future federal policy.

    My town is so small it shares a zip code with three other towns, and it can still afford to make voting accessible in this way. So what excuse does the Canadian officials have, eh?

  2. I stand corrected! Yes, there is a growing number of Americans (like you) who are aware of life beyond their own back yard. this comforts me, because there was a time when I despaired. I have been asked (when in Virginia), “Ya’ll got any niggers up there?” by a couple who had picked me up as I hitch hiked. This was preceded by the usual question about snow, and posed just as casually. I think most Americans still would be hard pressed to name the 10 Canadian provinces and 3 territories, let alone their capitals…then again, with the state of dead-head Canadian education our kids receive today, I doubt the average young Canuck could shpeel off half of the names of the states (I can, but I’m an old fart).
    You can bet that I will have further discussions with Elections Canada and Elections Nova Scotia. You are right on. In fact, the Supreme court case of CCD et al (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) Versus Via Rail had an important outcome; the ruling stated that financial hardship is NOT a valid argument for the company to NOT meet Reasonable Accommodation. I am convinced that this is the way that many cases will be won, including any challenges to the Canadian government and Elections Canada in particular.

  3. The names of the States are hammered in at around 4th-5th grade. Plus you have to remember the capitals for each, which makes 100 different names total. And you usually must recite them in alphabetical order. Not to mention the memorization of their state’s capitals, and all the counties within that state, and the capital for each county. This rote memorization of US geography may be why we are bad at remembering world geography. Besides, people usually forget most of it once they’re around age 16 or so. Still, after that, naming 10 Canadian provinces and capitals for each province, plus three territories, isn’t so bad.

    Let’s see if I can. As far as I can remember, the provinces and capitals are Halifax, NS; Quebec City, QC; Fredericton, NB; Toronto, O N; Victoria, BC; Winnipeg, M B; Regina, SK; Charlottetown, P E; Edmonton, AB; and Saint John’s, NL. The territories are Yellowknife, NT; Iqaluit, N U, and Whitehorse, YT. Took me about 10 minutes to remember how to spell Charlottetown and Iqaluit, but other than that.

    Unfortunately, our government officials and our celebrities (who get the most TV time) are hardly in touch with reality, much less being in touch with global events. I’m tempted to go run for President myself. I’d probably be the first President that actually bothered to read the laws that they are sworn to uphold. Of course, I’m not the typical American, either. The typical American likely thinks of Canada as the provider of all-important Maple Syrup, without which breakfast would cease to exist. They also think Canadian money is strange-looking, but I think it’s great in comparison to the single-colored American dollars, which are hard for those with visual difficulties to distinguish, at least not without expensive readers. We’re trying to get tactile money here, with little success. Most of us use plastic anyway, but there are a few stores which do not take credit or debit cards, and they do not work in vending machines.

    Still, if the Canadian Blend – I mean, the Canadian Blind – isn’t being represented fully in elections; this affects us in the States as well, as it could lead to problems for travelling Americans who are blind. Canadian citizens who are blind may avoid the polls altogether, knowing that they are not being represented, which could lead to the election of officials who pay no heed to accessibility problems, causing even more problems later. Besides, in the case of HAVA, it helped sighted Americans as well, by removing outdated methods of voting. These outdated methods were what caused the manual recount in the 2000 election; which affected all Americans, not just the blind ones.

    So, I’m tempted to go over and complain a bit myself, were it not for the lack of transportation. I was under the impression that Canada already had accessible voting before the States did, and that the States was one of the late adopters of such technology. Before HAVA, the only way to vote in this city was to get a sighted guide to fill out your ballot; so you had to find a friend with a like-minded political attitude to help you. Then they were required to sign in alongside your signature when you went to the polling booths.

    May as well forget about privacy and independance, there. This, in many ways, is a lot worse than a template. Now that the technology is available, and has been tested and examined fully, there’s no reason to still use faux independant methods of voting, such as plastic templates. Just have to convince the Canadian lawmakers of this.

    The main problem with getting accessible money here has been the government bringing up funding problems (even though it’s been proven that it won’t cost much), and pointing out that there are already (expensive) machines which can read out the monetary value of a note. This is still a broken solution. Hopefully, the Canadian government won’t do the same in this case, and bring up the plastic templates as a method of dismissing improvements to voting methods.

  4. I should know better than to dismiss you with a quick remark, Aluion….and what an interesting handle you have there….almost presidential. It would be refreshing to have someone in the White House who can remember the names of our provinces and territories, and who knows that Canada is more than Mounties and maple syrup….actually, our maple industry has declined and our mounties (the ones with red surge uniforms on horses) are mainly for show….like when a president from another country arrives, and sits through the requisite display of the Musical Ride.
    As for our money in Canada, yes the bills are rather colourful, but all the same size. It doesn’t much matter any more because we have so many coins replacing them. We have no 1 or 2 dollar bills. That means that poor people walk around with mostly change all the time. I like the coins, because they are all different. If they come up with a 5 dollar coin, and I imagine it won’t be too many more years when the Canadian Mint will crank one out, then I will start a cottage industry to produce pocket protectors for the average Canadian who will by then, be carrying 16 pounds of change in their pants pocket. By the way, Canadian bill readers are free via the Bank of Canada and the Canadian National Institute of the Blend.
    We could use you here in Canada, Aluion. why not hop a Greyhound bus? We can send some loonies and toonies to cover the fare…just watch out for maniacs on the bus who decapitate other passengers.
    I will think of you on Tuesday as i make my point at the polling station and refuse the template. If I’m feeling very ambitious, I will make it a bit of a media event, though getting the media’s attention on election day might require something more dramatic to entice them to the Prespreterian church in Fairview where I am goring to be…. like nudity or demanding to feel the DRO’s face.

  5. My username comes from a rather obscure language, which only about 30 or so people know. It’s pronounced Uh Loo Yon, but most screenreaders pronounce it as if it has four syllables. The benefits of having an obscure phrase in another language as your username is that it is hardly ever taken.

    And I’m aware of the maple syrup decline, being how expensive it has gotten. Still, the typical American, if asked about Canadian exports, would say “Maple syrup and snow!” Nevermind the fact that they export petroleum, natural gas, and even electricity; 70% of their total exports go to the US, if not more.

    We need dollar coins here, too. We have dollar coins, technically, but they’re commemorative, and not usually used in actual bartering. We don’t, to my knowledge, get free bill identifiers. So you have to actually have money in order to be able to count it. I got tired enough of it that I wrote a simple program for my mobile phone which can identify bills.

    Free bus fare? Can’t refuse that. If I could get ahold of a bus by Monday, I’d be there and become a Canadian for a day. I already can do a poor impression of the accent. Just have to pick up a few shirts supporting the local hockey team to add an air of authenticity. I think the football team shirt I’m wearing now would blow my cover. The problem is finding a bus available. Public transportation has cut back (not that there was much to begin with), to the point that it has become cheaper to take a plane when travelling long distances.

    I’ve had my share of protests, some subtle, and some not so much (many of them not involving the blend.). For example of a subtle protest, a few weeks ago, I put a sign in Braille on a restroom door. The sign read “This is the men’s restroom, but blind people are not allowed to use the bathrooms here.”. That’s basically the message they were sending. Laws here require all permanent rooms to be labeled in Braille. As far as I know, the sighted management hasn’t caught on yet and removed the sign.

    Reminds me of a comic strip someone described to me once. The comic strip had a stick figure examining a braille sign. A caption at the top reads: “I learned to read Braille a while back, and I’ve noticed that the messages on signs don’t always match the regular text.” The English text on the sign read “Third floor office”. However, the Braille sign reads “Sighted people suck!” The strip is at

    Anyway, I really think nakedness is the way to go. Worked for Lady Godiva. People STILL remember her. She even has her own brand of chocolate, and an asteroid named after her.

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