Nfld. & Labrador

Woman living with disability worries ballot won't show up in time for her to vote

Cecilia Carroll has been waiting weeks for her mail-in ballot kit to arrive, and is now worried that, with just days left to send her ballot back in, she won't be able to cast a ballot in a provincial election for the first time in her adult life.

'You're supposed to have a process in place that's accessible for everyone,' says Cecilia Carroll

Cecilia Carroll worries that people living with disabilities are going to be unable to vote this election due to accessibility issues. (CBC)

Cecilia Carroll has been waiting weeks for her mail-in ballot kit to arrive, and is now worried that, with just days left to send her ballot back in, she won't be able to vote in a provincial election for the first time in her adult life.

Carroll, who lives in Torbay, applied three weeks ago to get her special ballot kit so she would be able to vote by mail.

As of Friday morning, it hadn't yet shown up. Carroll has called Elections Newfoundland and Labrador twice, and followed up with an email, but has been told it's on its way, and there's nothing else to do but wait for it to show up.

But Carroll said living with a disability means there are external factors she's worried about that could prevent her from being able to send her ballot in before the postmark deadline of March 12.

"My biggest concern is getting it back in the mail in time. Like, for me, you're dropping it in a community mailbox because you can't go to the post office, so I don't know what time that gets picked up and taken to the post office," Carroll said.

There's nothing else I can do.- Cecilia Carroll

"I need to have … it back in the mail at least by Wednesday, because then it's not getting picked up until Thursday and then it had to go to the post office to be postmarked for Friday."

That's a best-case scenario, at this point, Carroll said; if her community mailbox gets snowed in, and she has to wait for it to be shovelled out, that could mean she can't get her kit sent out in time.

"If we have a snowstorm Monday or Tuesday, I'm not gonna be able to get to my mailbox, so I won't be able to vote," Carroll said. "And I can honestly say I've never missed voting in an election since I became old enough to vote."

Carroll is worried, too, that she's not alone.

Carroll says it can sometimes take days for snow to be cleared from community mailboxes, meaning people living with a physical disability, like her, might not be able to send their ballots by the deadline if there's a storm. (Margaret Boothroyd/Submitted)

"I truly believe there will be a lot of people with disabilities who will not be able to vote in this election. I mean, when you go to a polling station, there's someone there to help you if you need help. If you're living alone and you're in the middle of a pandemic, you may not feel comfortable having someone come to your home because you could have underlying health issues and you could risk getting COVID," she said.

"I think there will be a lot of people who will just decide not to because it will be easier than trying to go through the process of trying to get somebody to help them, and not everybody is willing to speak up or call and complain or ask questions."

'You shouldn't have to do that'

The provincial election was moved to mail-in only last month, after an outbreak of coronavirus variant B117 put the province into Alert Level 5 lockdown less than 12 hours before polls were set to open on Feb. 13.

In-person voting had been scrapped just days before that for nearly half of the province's electoral districts, in eastern Newfoundland, due to spiking case numbers and mass resignation of poll station staff.

This week, chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk, confirmed he hand-delivered ballot kits to some people in his neighbourhood, including Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie and Liberal candidate Siobhan Coady.

For people like Carroll still waiting to see if they'll get a ballot in time, that shows there's something amiss.

"Great, if they're delivering them to everyone who hasn't gotten one. No one has said that that's an option. But to me, you shouldn't have to do that. You're supposed to have a process in place that's accessible for everyone, regardless of disability or mobility issues or whatever," she said.

"If you're a person with a visual disability, who helps you fill out your ballot? Where's your template to complete that? Or who reads it for you so that you know what's written on it? Those types of things, I don't know what they've been included in the process this time around because it's a mail-in ballot.… There's nothing extra there telling you what to do if you're a person with a disability who needs assistance with voting."

Former CBC broadcaster Karl Wells tweeted his thanks to the province's chief electoral officer, Tuesday, after receiving a call from Bruce Chaulk. (Karl Wells/Twitter)

Dozens of commenters on social media called the election a "mess," and asked whether they, too, should expect their ballots to be hand delivered.

"This is nothing short of showing favouritism to those in the public eye," wrote on commenter on CBC N.L.'s Facebook post.

"All citizens must be treated in the same manner. How did he even find those ballots, was he in the mailroom flicking through them, to find people he knows?" wrote another commenter.

Indigenous voters, too, are feeling excluded, according to two candidates in Labrador who say Elections NL reneged on a commitment to distribute election materials that had been translated into Newfoundland and Labrador's Indigenous languages, which include Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and Mi'kmaw.

Carroll said she worries the thousands of people in the province who live with disabilities may not get to cast a ballot.

"Honestly I don't know, but I feel that there's probably way too many people out there, in my heart and soul, who are not gonna vote because it's gonna be too complicated for them to do it," she said.

Carroll said she'll keep waiting for the mail-in kit to arrive, in the hopes that nothing else will happen to hinder her vote.

"If I don't get it today, I guess I'm back on the phone again. I mean, there's nothing else I can do."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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