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Opinion

Casting a vote to overcome disabilities

Reporter's daughter exercised her rights, fulfilled her civic duty

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2016 (1304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2016 (1304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

My daughter became an adult last year, but this week she came of age and did something some people around the world die trying to do.

She voted.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Free Press reporter Kevin Rollason said his daughter, Mary, accomplished something 41.2 per cent of the electorate did not. She cast a ballot.</p></p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Free Press reporter Kevin Rollason said his daughter, Mary, accomplished something 41.2 per cent of the electorate did not. She cast a ballot.

But while Mary didn’t have to fight to cast her vote, she still had challenges. Unlike myself and the other members of our family, Mary needed help to vote. That’s because, as many people who read the Free Press regularly know, Mary lives with several disabilities, both physical and cognitive.

It was even more important for Mary to vote this year because during this election campaign the disability community came together under the Disability Matters banner. The initiative not only encouraged people living with disabilities to vote, but also to think of five key issues that affect their lives, including the low incomes earned by the caregivers who look after adults with disabilities in group homes because of what is budgeted by the provincial government.

I swore I would mark the ballot as directed by 'my friend,' that I would keep the name of the candidate she wanted to vote for a secret, and that I had not marked more than two voter's ballots as a 'friend' during the election

It’s an issue that hits home for my wife and myself because, sadly, we won’t live forever, and sometime during the next decade, Mary will transition from our residence to a group home.

It was simple to get Mary on the voters list. An enumerator came to our door some weeks before election day and filled out the form to put her on the list. It was also easy getting her to the polling station on election day. Elections Manitoba has, through the years, put in place numerous procedures to allow people living with disabilities to cast votes, including making sure polling stations are accessible.

I drove Mary to her polling station in the Crescentwood Community Centre on Corydon Avenue. To help people with disabilities, there were two disabled parking spots right in front so I could easily lower the side ramp to get her out. The building’s door had a large push button to open it.

The first question that was asked of Mary was proof she was who I said she was. This can be a problem for many people living with disabilities, including Mary, because the most common identification card is a driver’s licence, and Mary will never be able to drive a vehicle or get a driver’s licence. She also, because she still lives at home, doesn’t get mail sent to her, such as a utility bill.

But a few months ago my wife and I were advised to apply for a Manitoba Identification card for our daughter. This card, which has a photograph of her and our address, made it easy.

Next, I had to swear an oath. I thought I would just have to read a form and sign it, but no, I had to say it out loud and then say "I swear" before signing it.

There were three things I had to swear to do. I swore I would mark the ballot as directed by "my friend," that I would keep the name of the candidate she wanted to vote for a secret, and that I had not marked more than two voter’s ballots as a "friend" during the election.

Then, once I was behind the voting booth with her, I read out the names of each of the candidates to her, and their parties, and I pointed to their names. I put the short pencil into her hand, she grasped it, and then using the same hand-over-hand-type movements she has been taught through years of working with occupational and physical therapists and educational assistants, she marked her ballot.

Now I can’t say who Mary voted for — that’s part of my oath.

And I also can’t say for sure how much she understood about the whole process. For her, it was more the experience of being in a different room and the sights and sounds of being around people also were part of the voting process. And, for a few minutes, she was fully included and exercising her rights as a citizen of this province, just like any other person who came out to vote.

What I do know is I believe her vote was cast for the candidate most likely to help her and others with the challenges they face in the next few years. It’s a pledge I made at the polling station, but it is also a pledge that comes naturally, both as one of her parents and, since she became an adult, as one of her substitute decision-makers.

And Mary voted. More than 300,000 Manitobans who were eligible to vote, a full 41.2 per cent, did not, and the majority of them would not have needed the help Mary required to get to the polling booth.

Their only disability was not taking part in the electoral process.

So, when it comes down to it, who really understood the voting process?

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

 

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 8:14 AM CDT: Photo added.

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