VAT (Voter Assist Terminal) or Adventures in “Accessible” voting

Voter Assist Terminal

On October 27th 2014, as Torontonians headed to the polling stations, I was eager to utilize the new VAT’s (Voter Assist Terminal) that first debuted in Toronto’s last Municipal election. After some research my adventure began… Every Ward has one VAT available on voting day (and advanced voting days) and luckily for me my assigned polling station and the VAT equipped polling station where close to each other. With my voter card and passport (which is not accepted as Identification in the voting process) in hand off I went. I arrived at the VAT equipped station and i’m immediately was told I had to go to my “assigned” polling station. when I further inquired about the accessible voting (while gesturing to the VAT) I was incorrectly informed “all polling stations have the machine”. So back I go to my “assigned” polling station, AKA my home and of course (as I suspected) there was no VAT. I proceed to inquire about the “accessible” voting machine and the clerks (looking at me like I had 2 heads) commented that there was “no such thing only accessible stations that can be accessed by wheelchair” and that I was mistaken. Although they did offer to help me, I opted to go back to the VAT equipped station as I felt that I needed to see this process through because A) I was curious and B) perhaps I could educate people and make things better for future disabled voters…

VAT (Voter Assist Terminal)

So back I go to the VAT equipped polling station, this time I expressed that I wish to use the VAT and was immediately taken to the head clerk, who started into “you have to go to your…” to which I replied “I’m here to use the VAT” after a few minutes I was introduced to the VAT tech, a pleasant fellow whom tells me I need a ballot transfer in order to vote and he needs to “call in for permission”. At this point I’m thinking how crazy is this? that the city offers this service then makes it extremely difficult and time consuming to use? After permission was granted, I head to the… wait I know what your thinking, the VAT? Nope! First I need to fill out the Ballot transfer, I’m shown to another table (w/ the tech) where a frustrated and rude woman, blows us off stating “this is not my job”. Luckily the head Clerk intervened and after a conference as to weather a “special ballot was needed for the machine” managed to get me a ballot.

Finally I pull up the VAT, I’m handed a wired remote and given a quick overview. easy right? Well no, I push the button and nothing! after a quick scan I noticed the remote was not fully plugged in, then I further notice that the remote was plugged into the headphone port and the headphones plugged into the remote port, at this time i’m now instructing the tech and thinking who do I send a bill to? With all the cabling issues sorted it was finally voting time. a ballot is inserted into the VAT and as I have limited use of my arms, the tech had to follow the prompts in order to activate the remote allowing you to scan with one button and select with another. After 10 minutes and 3 ejected ballots (due to incorrect candidate selections) I had officially exercised my democratic right…

Overall I would say it was a frustrating experience that offered far less independence and confidentiality (because of all the steps involved) than the old way of just asking the clerk for assistance, I was also surprised at the lack of knowledge about the VAT amongst the clerks.

However don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort put forth but the city, realize the technology is in it’s infancy and look forward to future improvements. I also think / hope that all things considered, I helped educate not only myself but others in the process and that to me is all positive!
Neil Mercer is a Graphic Designer who works on a freelance basis, some notable projects have been for Tobias House Attendant Care inc., AYAAA a Youth Aids organization in Africa and Spectra Talent Showcase. Alongside his artistic talents Neil keeps active as a Board member of both Tobias House Attendant Care Inc. and Spectra Talent Showcase. He is also a successful event organizer with projects such as DreamsAway, Tobias House Attendant Care Inc. and the Sean Ross Memorial Summer Classic, now in its fourth year. In what spare time he has, Neil is an Goaltender in the Toronto Power Wheelchair Hockey League, an occasional public speaker as well a founding member of Equal Grounds. His interests are Music, Art,  Film, Food, and Travel.


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