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'Embarrassing': Disability Alliance BC blasts Burnaby for no mail-in voting in byelection

City of Burnaby council byelection scheduled for June 26
Burnaby City Hall. Photo via Jennifer Gauthier/Burnaby Now

The Disability Alliance of BC says the City of Burnaby is discriminating against people with disabilities by not providing accommodations for voting, specifically mail-in voting. 

In a letter dated June 11, 2021, sent to Mayor Mike Hurley and council, the organization says it opposes the choice by the city, with general voting day scheduled for June 26.

"The exclusion of a mail-in voting option will most certainly create barriers for many Burnaby residents, including people with disabilities, who may not be able to travel to a polling station to cast their vote," the letter reads. 

"The City’s failure to offer mail-in ballots actively discriminates against people with disabilities by reducing access to their right to vote. Accommodations must be made for people with disabilities, especially by any level of government, to ensure full access and participation in the voting process." 

The city has said it will be offering curbside voting, where will allow people to cast a ballot in their car within the parking lot of a policing station, with the presence of an election official. 

"However, this does not fully accommodate all people with disabilities as some may not have access to a vehicle. As a result, some Burnaby residents will have no means to vote in the upcoming By-Election," the organization said. 

The City of Richmond allowed mail-in ballots for its recent byelection.

Disability Alliance BC also said more efforts should be made for voters to cast a ballot, especially during COVID-19, which could hinder someone's effort to vote. 

At a February 8, 2021, council meeting, a report was presented to mayor and council by City Clerk Blanka Zeinabova, where it was recommended that the city not implement mail-in voting for the byelection. 

It was suggested that mail-in voting be brought in for the 2022 general election instead.

The city claimed the resources required to set the city up to administer mail-in voting and low mail-in participation in Victoria's byelection. 

The clerk's office estimated that it would cost $124,000 to set the city up to administer voting by mail, assuming a total of 16,000 people request mail-in ballots. That includes $25,000 for election office staff, $68,000 for DataFix services and $31,000 in postage fees. 

"Mail-in voting is not a new process," Disability of Alliance BC said in their June 11 letter. 

"Elections BC has used mail-in ballots regularly since 2002 and Elections Canada since 1993. Decades later, municipal elections have not yet caught up, despite there being a considerable amount of research and advocacy conducted on the need for barrier-free access to voting. 

"It is embarrassing that in 2021, when the systems and structures in place to carry out mailing-in voting are readily available - and especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic in which people with disabilities have experienced further barriers to accessibility and inclusion out of concern for their health - that a municipal government cannot provide a mail-in voting option to its residents." 

The association said in the letter while they understand that mail-in voting would not be logistically possible for the June 23 byelection, they're calling on the city to implement mail-in voting for all future elections and add more election workers to help those with disabilities for this byelection. 

"We firstly state that this should have been implemented long before this point, and that in order to meet their human rights obligations in relation to accommodations for people with disabilities, we recommend that the City hire additional election workers during this by-election to assist people with disabilities who are unable to visit any polling station by bringing ballot boxes to them at their place of residence." 

There are a total of 14 candidates on the ballot for two open council seats. You can find all your election coverage details in our voting guide, including where to vote, times to vote, candidate questionnaires and ID you will need at the polling station.