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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada – Following the Pilot Project on the Use of an Assistive Voting Device in the November 29, 2010, By-election Held in Winnipeg North


Close to 4 million Canadian electors are estimated to have disabilities. According to 2006 data from Statistics Canada, over 2.9 million Canadians have reduced mobility and nearly 800,000 have a visual impairment. Canada has a duty to accommodate the needs of these electors, allowing them to vote independently while preserving the secrecy of their ballot. It is a duty that arises not only as a result of community expectations but also from obligations under Canadian and international law:

  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out the right of all citizens to vote in federal elections and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Act sets out the obligation to refrain from discrimination in the provision of services generally available to the public – such as elections – as well as the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities.
  • Canada has signed and recently ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As a State Party, Canada has undertaken to protect the right of these persons to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums, and to facilitate "the use of assistive and new technologies where appropriate" (article 29).

The Canada Elections Act contains provisions to facilitate voting by persons with disabilities in federal elections and referendums. Elections Canada offers a range of services to such persons (see box). However, the available services do not always permit electors with certain disabilities to vote without assistance. Elections Canada is committed to enhancing accessibility for all electors with disabilities.

Examples of Elections Canada Services for Electors with Disabilities at Polling Sites

  • A voting template to help persons with visual impairments mark their ballot
  • A large-print list of candidates
  • Sign-language interpretation on request
  • Assistance from an election officer, a friend or a relative in marking the ballot

Pursuant to section 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act, in fall 2010, Elections Canada received approval from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to conduct a pilot project testing an electronic assistive voting device (AVD) for use by electors with disabilities in the November 29 by-election in Winnipeg North.

This was the first time that Elections Canada organized and conducted a pilot project requiring the approval of parliamentarians for the purpose of testing electronic voting systems. The conduct of pilot projects for that purpose is authorized since 2000 under the Canada Elections Act. For the pilot project, the agency carefully noted the recommendations made by the Senate committee. This report responds to those recommendations, as well as the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the AVD be placed in areas visited by a large number of electors.Footnote 1

This technology has already been used elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is essential to test such a process in a federal context to demonstrate to all stakeholders – Elections Canada as well as election administrators in the regions, electors, candidates and parliamentarians – that the new electronic device can be a useful tool, integrating well into the voting process established by the Canada Elections Act.

For example, it is necessary to ensure that the federal election calendar allows for the electronic device to be programmed and verified before it is deployed for advance polls, taking into account the time frame between the close of nominations and the first day of advance voting; that there is sufficient staff at polling sites to ensure smooth conduct of the vote; that an appropriate communications strategy is put in place to make targeted electors aware of this voting option; that the secrecy of the vote is preserved, notably with respect to the random mark left by the device and the ballot-handling procedure used by the election officer who operates the device; and finally, that the voting process meets electors' needs.

Elections Canada chose Winnipeg North for the pilot project because it was the first electoral district for which a House of Commons seat became vacant in the time period when the agency was ready to test assistive voting technology. In addition, the riding location provided the opportunity to engage with national and local groups based in Winnipeg that represent people with disabilities.

This report sets out Elections Canada's objectives and experiences under the pilot project. It explains what an AVD is and describes the particular type of device used in the pilot. It summarizes the communications and outreach campaign mounted by Elections Canada for the pilot project. It describes the actual use of the AVD in the by-election. It presents the feedback collected from various sources concerning this device and gives a breakdown of the costs of the pilot project. Last, it presents Elections Canada's conclusion and next steps.

Footnote 1 The recommendations from the Senate and House committees, and Elections Canada's response to them, have been summarized and presented in the annex.