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Updated: Tue, 01 Apr 2014 20:14:27 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Blind voters may lack ID to cast ballots under election changes



Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa Friday, March 28, 2014. Poilievre says he's listening to the growing tide of outrage about the Harper government's controversial new electoral reform bill, but he would not commit to making changes. Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa Friday, March 28, 2014. Poilievre says he's listening to the growing tide of outrage about the Harper government's controversial new electoral reform bill, but he would not commit to making changes. Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

Blind or vision-impaired Canadians may struggle to meet the identification requirements that would be imposed under the federal Conservatives' plan to update election laws, a spokeswoman for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind said Tuesday.

Diane Bergeron told MPs that the CNIB ID card can be used at polling stations, but no one is required to register with the CNIB, so many blind or partially sighted Canadians won't have that identification.

As well, the CNIB card lets people write in their address, rather than issuing it with the address printed on it, meaning it can't be used to prove where they live.

"Those of us that are blind don't drive," so don't carry driver's licences, Bergeron pointed out at the procedure and House affairs committee.

Canadians will have to prove their address and their identity under Bill C-23, but most pieces of ID don't list a person's address.

Although Elections Canada has a list of 39 pieces of ID that allow people to prove their identity and their address, some of those don't help blind Canadians, she said.

"I have a stack of papers on my table," Bergeron said. "I don't know what most of them are. Because most of my bills don't come in braille. If they did come in braille, that wouldn't do a lick of good if I took my braille copy of my phone bill to the polling station, since I doubt anybody there reads braille."

The CNIB is talking to Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, about qualifying the CNIB card as proof of address as well as proof of identity, she said.

Loss of vouching would 'impede' vote

Poilievre said the government has to eliminate the vouching process used by people without the right ID. He said the process is open to fraud and that there were 50,000 errors in the last federal election.

Harry Neufeld, the expert who wrote the report from which Poilievre took the error rate, said most of the errors were administrative ones, such as not filling in the right boxes on the form. He said he's seen no evidence of voter fraud.

Vouching lets someone who casts a ballot at the same polling station swear that a voter lives where he or she claims to.

Poilievre also wants to eliminate the use of voter information cards, mailed to voters' homes, as proof of address. Elections Canada ran a pilot project in the 2011 federal election that let 400,000 people use their voter information cards as proof of address, targeting Canadians who live on reserves, students, and people in long-term care.

Bergeron said the voter information cards don't help people with vision problems, because they feel like junk mail when they come in the mail.

She said eliminating vouching will "impede" blind and partially sighted Canadians.

"If vouching isn't available, there are going to be some blind and partially sighted people in this country who will have a difficult time obtaining the identification they're going to need," Bergeron said.

Kory Earle of People First of Lanark County, which represents Canadians with disabilities, agreed.

"I think vouching is as critical today as it was critical last week," he said. "We've come a long way for Canadians to vote and yet we're turning around and saying they must come with ID." 

Turning people away?

Earle's group is one of the only ones known to have been consulted by Poilievre as he was putting the bill together. He acknowledged the help of his local MP, Conservative Scott Reid, in arranging the meeting. Reid is one of the MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee.

Earle said some Canadians with disabilities don't have the required identification.

"The question is, is this act about turning people away from voting in democracy or is it about encouraging people?" he said.

Bergeron said she was concerned about the constraints put on Elections Canada when it comes to testing out internet voting.

People with vision problems rely on others to mark their ballots, she said, while technology could make it possible for them to cast their own ballots.

"The voter must trust that that person will mark the ballot in accordance with their wishes, to not intentionally or accidentally spoil the ballot, and to keep their choice forever secret," Bergeron said.

"I don't know that person. I don't have any clue. I could have voted for somebody completely different."

"I think that the wording needs to be more directive," she said.

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