One important aspect of the electoral process and accessibility that will play a significant role in the upcoming federal election is how changes within the Fair Elections Act will impact disabled voters. Traditionally voter information cards have been used by a significant number of Canadians to identify themselves at the polls, specifically voters who lack other forms of identification. In the last election, 400,000 Canadians relied on voter information cards as a form of identification.
While possessing ID may not seem to be a barrier to some, there are a number of individuals and groups that this creates real barriers for, including people who don’t drive, people who cannot afford fees associated with acquiring some forms of ID, and those who face barriers accessing government offices. In the US, voter ID legislation has already significantly impacted disabled and older voters, and research indicates turnout among these same groups will likely continue decrease under these measures. On the issue of voter turnout, it's worth noting that in Canada we have already seen significant changes to the electoral process since 1997 that have dramatically impacted turnout, and these new measures will likely exacerbate this trend.
While these most recent changes in the Fair elections Act were packaged as a way to cut down on voter fraud, there is little to no evidence that voter fraud was an issue in previous elections. In fact, the government has based a large part of its case on what they claim were the findings of an expert hired by Elections Canada, Harry Neufeld. Yet, in his report Neufeld recommended that Elections Canada simplify their paperwork and more importantly, utilize the same Voter Information cards the Fair Elections Act will no longer allow. Of note, Neufeld has filed an affidavit in which he reaffirms that voter fraud is in fact extremely rare in Canada and that these new rules pose a significant barrier to many potential voters, including those who reside in long-term care facilities, students, and those living on reserve.
For disabled voters these new measures pose a significant barrier as well as many lack the necessary ID. In fact, Elections Canada’s own research related to aging and electoral participation notes anecdotal evidence that suggests ID requirements present significant barriers, especially to those residing within long-term care facilities. With young disabled adults increasingly finding themselves in long-terms care facilities, these new regulations are troubling. In a time when we should be making the voting process more accessible to disabled people, regulations within the Fair Elections Act are in fact creating more barriers.