Voting by mail offers accessible option for Manitobans with disabilities during pandemic, advocates say

More Manitobans are voting by mail in this election than ever before and while it isn’t a new option, for those living with disabilities it’s made voting much easier.

Over 30,000 Manitobans requested mail-in voter kits this year, compared to 55,000 in all of Canada in 2019

Nancy Hansen voted by mail for the first time a couple weeks ago and said it was the easiest and most accessible voting process for her. (Submitted by Nancy Hansen)

More Manitobans are mailing it in this election — their votes, that is.

While the option to vote by mail isn't new, some people living with disabilities say casting their ballot from the comfort of home this year has made life easier for them.

"It was fantastic, because I didn't have to leave my home, I didn't have to arrange transportation, I didn't have to manoeuvre around an open space or stand in line," said Nancy Hansen, who voted by mail for the first time a couple weeks ago.

All that was required was to take photos of two pieces of acceptable ID and wait for her special ballot voting kit, said Hansen.

"My husband is a wheelchair user and we just found it the most accessible option for us to vote this year, particularly in the midst of a pandemic."

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Hansen, who is an associate professor of disability studies at the University of Manitoba, has used crutches to get around her whole life. Until this year, she didn't know voting by mail was an option for people who live in their electoral riding — she thought it was only available to voters who live out of province or outside Canada.

More than 30,000 Manitobans have opted for a mail-in voting package. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"I think this is really important in really demonstrating inclusion in our society, and it's just another barrier that we don't have to deal with anymore," she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, over a million Canadians had requested special ballot voting kits, according to Elections Canada. The majority — over 900,000 — live within their own electoral riding. 

During the 2019 election, about 55,000 Canadian voters opted for mail-in ballots, with the majority going to people living outside of Canada. Only about 5,000 kits went to those who were voting from their own riding, Elections Canada said.

So far this election, over 30,000 Manitobans have requested voter kits, and nearly 85 per cent of those have gone to people voting from inside their riding. The number of Manitobans who opted for mail-in ballots last election was not available.

The deadline to apply for a mail in ballot was Tuesday at 6 p.m. and voters who opted for mail-in ballots must ensure they are returned before polls close on election day, Sept. 20.

As of Tuesday, about 19,000 Manitobans had returned their kits, according to Elections Canada.

Awareness, pandemic drive demand

The increase in the popularity of voting by mail this year is being chalked up to the COVID-19 pandemic. While there have been provincial elections, this is the first federal election during the pandemic.

"I guess the awareness of accessibility and accommodation is more front and centre these days," said David Kron with Disability Matters Vote, a non-partisan group that works to ensure Manitobans with disabilities can participate fully in elections.

David Kron works with Disability Matters Vote, a group that works to ensure those with disabilities can participate fully in elections. (John Einarson/CBC)

"Elections Canada over the last couple of elections have really stepped up their game as far as making accommodations for folks, and mail-in voting is a real key. With the pandemic … it's going to be a more popular choice than ever," said Kron.

Some of Elections Canada's other moves toward accommodation include making sure polling stations meet at least 15 mandatory accessibility criteria, expanding the list of acceptable forms of identification, and allowing people living in long-term housing the ability to have a staff member vouch for them.

Kron said while the voting-by-mail option has been available in past elections, many are still unaware of or unfamiliar with the process. He said better communication could go a long way.

"We've taken strides to get the word out there, but you can never communicate with people too many times," he said.

Hansen says the vote-by-mail experience has changed the way she and her husband will cast their ballots in the future. She hopes others will be able to take advantage of the option next time around.

"I think it's very important for everybody to vote, but the easier we make it, the more people can be involved in the democratic process — and this is one more step in that democratic process."

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