Elections

Independent voting made easier with new system

David Weber, Richmond’s chief election officer, demonstrates voting with an AutoMARK machine at city hall. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
David Weber, Richmond’s chief election officer, demonstrates voting with an AutoMARK machine at city hall.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

People whose disabilities unable to cast a traditional ballot will be able to vote independently in the upcoming election for the first time in Richmond.

City hall's election office has secured two cutting-edge voting machines that can assist people with a range of disabilities or impairments. In previous elections, voters requiring help needed to bring an assistant to the polls.

"It may be a subtle thing for a lot of people, but a very important distinction to be able to do something as fundamental as cast your ballot—to be able to do that on your own, independently," said David Weber, Richmond's chief election officer.

Any registered voter can use the AutoMARK machines, from people who are blind or seniors who prefer viewing magnified text, to people with dexterity impairments or severely limited motor function.

Weber said he knows of only one other municipality in B.C., Kelowna, using the machines for the Nov. 19 school and municipal elections, but they've been used extensively in the U.S. where legislation mandates.

A voter who opts to use the machine is issued a paper ballot like everyone else. But instead of entering a booth, the voter inserts the ballot into the machine to make candidate selections.

The voter listens and/or reads instructions delivered by headset and digital screen. Selections can be made by Braille keypad, hand or foot paddle, touch screen or sip-and-puff device. Text can be magnified and contrast can be altered, and privacy is maintained.

"When we really started looking into the possibility of having this, I just couldn't see any downside to it," said Weber. "We're really looking forward to seeing how it will be received."

Voters with disabilities still have the option of bringing an assistant to help them mark their ballot in the traditional way.

The AutoMark machine has been praised by people with disabilities in the U.S., where hundreds of jurisdictions use it. Yet critics have complained not all people with disabilities are able to use the system—such as voters who are both deaf and blind—and that marked ballots must still be transported to a scanning machine.

The machines are being rented by the city and available to voters at three advance polls at city hall and at Lansdowne Centre on election day, Nov. 19. Their deployment fits with the city's election theme of removing barriers, noted Weber.

Richmond's other new initiatives include a "vote anywhere" program, allowing voters to cast ballots at any of the 32 voting places, which have expanded to include malls, Watermania and Richmond Cultural Centre. Voters are also being armed with more information via a mailed voter's guide and online candidate profiles.

Nine advance voting opportunities—the most ever in Richmond—are also available this year. The city is dubbing Nov. 12 as "Super Saturday," when four advance voting locations will be offered.

All advance voting times are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dates are: Wednesday, Nov. 9 and Thursday, Nov. 10 at city hall; Saturday, Nov. 12 at Cambie Community Centre, Richmond Cultural Centre, R.A. McMath Secondary, Hugh McRoberts Secondary; Tuesday, Nov. 15 at city hall and the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Any qualified voter is eligible to vote at advance polls.

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AutoMARK voting machine locations

•Wednesday, Nov. 9 at city hall

•Thursday, Nov. 10 at city hall

•Tuesday, Nov. 15 at city hall

•Saturday, Nov. 19 at Lansdowne Centre mall's Kiosk Court

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