Elections Ontario is hoping improved accessibility at polling stations and a special ballot that gives voters almost an entire month to vote will encourage greater participation in the upcoming Ontario election.

Beginning Thursday, once the writ is issued, election returns offices in each riding will open for people to vote through a special ballot.

The special ballot, which can also be requested in the mail to allow people to vote from home, was put in place to give more options for people unable to vote on election day or on the advance voting days.

"It's putting the power in the hands of the electorate to choose the time that is most convenient and the methodology that is most appropriate for them to exercise their right to vote," said Greg Essensa, Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer.

Essensa said he hopes the voter turnout will rise from the last election, when only 52 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

This year's election will also be the first provincial election where visually impaired and disabled people can vote in private with the help of computer technologies.

On Oct. 6 all voting locations will:

  • have magnifiers, Braille ballot templates and other assist tools for people with visual impairments.
  • provide pens and pads and the ability to book a sign language interpreter paid by Elections Ontario for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Paddles, tactile buttons and "sip and puff" wands that allow quadriplegics and others with mobility issues to vote will also be available from September 21 to October 5 at returning offices and satellite offices, but not on election day.  

People with mobility issues will also be able to contact their returning officer to transfer to a more convenient voting location in their electoral district.

Ottawa resident Richard Marsolais, who is blind, uses a guide dog and has had a friend bring him to the ballot box and mark his ballot for him. He said the polling station in his condo building was so small that when he indicated to his friend how he wanted his ballot marked everyone could hear how he was voting.

"It's a basic human right for all Canadians to have access to a secure and private vote," said Marsolais.

"It's going to be awesome to have that independence so I don't have to go and find somebody and try to be discreet and whisper my answer. I think it's going to be exciting," he said.

Steve Gorman, who has been a quadriplegic since a hockey injury more than 30 years ago, said he used a similar system in last fall's municipal election in Ottawa, and said there were some design and technical glitches. But he’s excited by the possibilities for the provincial election.

"I think it's great for people with disabilities," said Gorman. "It really gives them the independence and the privacy to do it on their own, whereas previously we haven't had that opportunity."

Essensa said it is costing about $3 million for the assistive technologies and to staff offices for longer voting periods.