Elections Sask. voter accessibility program earns international recognition

A program created by Elections Saskatchewan has received international recognition.

Elections Sask. working towards accessibility plan for 2020 vote, cyber security also a focus

Michael Boda is chief electoral officer for Elections Saskatchewan. (Submitted to CBC/Elections Saskatchewan)

A program created by Elections Saskatchewan has received international recognition.

Elections Saskatchewan's Accessibility Implementation Plan improved services offered to voters with disabilities as well as voters who required additional assistance before the 2016 provincial election.

"We had been having some challenges in this area, and we worked and came up with a plan in four different areas," Dr. Michael Boda, the Chief Electoral Officer of Saskatchewan, told CBC Radio's Morning Edition.

The plan has now been recognized by the Zero Project, an organization dedicated to supporting the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Every year, the Zero Project recognizes policies and practices designed with the idea of improving the lives of people with disabilities, according to a press release from Elections Saskatchewan.

Boda said Elections Saskatchewan focused on offering more options for citizens to vote, like "homebound voting," which was introduced through legislation.

Elections Saskatchewan also focused on improving accessibility at polling locations. Boda said 99 per cent of polling locations in Sask. were deemed accessible.

Training programs were also offered to the 12,000 electoral staff about "what it means to serve those who have disabilities" according to Boda.

The program also focused on expanding voter information and public information about the accessibility of polling stations in the province.

"We worked very hard with our disability groups across the province and listened to them for what they actually needed," Boda said and added other expert groups were consulted with in the plan's creation.

Boda said Elections Saskatchewan is already working on their accessibility plans for the upcoming 2020 provincial election.

Cyber security a focus ahead of 2020 election

Cyber security is also a focus for the next election.

"It's important to understand or realize that this goes well beyond the United States to democracies in the west," Boda said.

"We have to understand that our democratic way of life, the way that we select our leaders is under threat."

He said it goes well beyond the threat of cyber attacks to the idea of manipulating the election system itself, in the sense that it's also about manipulating people's confidence in democracy.

In order to combat this, Elections Saskatchewan is looking at both the technical side and the misinformation that can be created around election time.

Boda said the election management group is encouraging voters to double-check the sources of the information they are consuming.

We have to understand that our democratic way of life, the way that we select our leaders is under threat.- Dr. Michael Boda

"Elections Saskatchewan has to be the source of the basic information, who, what, where, when, that's that electoral process, that's where our website comes in, and our information that we distribute to citizens across the province," he said.

Voter registration, vote counting and the sharing of results are all also important aspects that Elections Saskatchewan are working to "get right" according to Boda.

While he couldn't divulge too much information about how Elections Saskatchewan is working to bolster their systems, he did indicate the group is working with their partners on a national scale to understand these areas effectively.

They are also working with the province's political parties to make sure they understand what the risks are.

"It's really a matter of not telling them what to do … but it is an issue of building capacity in the context of political parties, helping them understand the importance of their campaign information and that their communications can be manipulated by outside entities."

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition


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