Cluttered polling location frustrates Nova Scotia voter who uses wheelchair

A Nova Scotia man who uses a wheelchair said his polling location in last month's provincial election wasn't accessible enough, and he worries similar situations will keep people with mobility issues from casting ballots in the future.

John Yorke says casting a ballot last week in New Glasgow was more difficult than it should have been

John Yorke says he doesn't think enough work is done to make Nova Scotia polling stations truly accessible. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

A Nova Scotia man who uses a wheelchair said his polling location in last month's provincial election wasn't accessible enough, and he worries similar situations will keep people from casting ballots in the future.

John Yorke has voted for 45 years but marking his ballot on May 30 at the Trinity United Church in New Glasgow stands out as a frustrating experience.

The problems started when he arrived at the church's front entrance.

"The door swings out, so you've got to push the button and back up real fast before you get hit by the door," said Yorke, who has multiple sclerosis.

Voter John Yorke says one of the issues with voting at the Trinity United Church in New Glasgow is that the automatic door swings outward, which makes it difficult to get into the building. (Jason Vermes/CBC)

From there, Yorke said he had to navigate a maze of chairs and tables to get to his poll in the back corner of the room.

"There's no way someone in my wheelchair could get at it without having to pull the tables out," he said.

So that's what his wife did. Election workers helped eventually, but the couple said they seemed unsure about whether moving tables around was allowed.

Advocacy group consulted

Elections Nova Scotia said it consulted with the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, to create a standard layout for every polling location. That layout was adjusted slightly depending on the design of the room.

Most of the province's approximately 900 polling locations were wheelchair accessible, said Andy LeBlanc, director of policy and communications for Elections Nova Scotia.

"What we also did, at the direction of the chief electoral officer, was send the returning officers out with a wheelchair to see if they actually can gain access to the building," said LeBlanc.

He said the agency can send staff to a resident's home if they are unable to access a voting location.

Recurring problem

Yorke said his experience on May 30 wasn't the first — or worst — time he's faced hurdles trying to vote. 

During a federal election, Yorke's polling location was in a church basement. The ramp to the lower level had no railing, he said, and one of his wheels fell off the edge.

"It's very inconvenient to go out in this world," he said.