04/01/2014 02:02 EDT | Updated 06/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Blind Voters May Lack ID To Cast Ballots Under New Law

Blind or vision-impaired Canadians may struggle to meet the identification requirements that would be imposed under the federal Conservatives' plan to update election laws, a spokeswoman for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind said Tuesday.

Diane Bergeron told MPs that the CNIB ID card can be used at polling stations, but no one is required to register with the CNIB, so many blind or partially sighted Canadians won't have that identification.

As well, the CNIB card lets people write in their address, rather than issuing it with the address printed on it, meaning it can't be used to prove where they live.

"Those of us that are blind don't drive," so don't carry driver's licences, Bergeron pointed out at the procedure and House affairs committee.

And while Elections Canada has a list of 39 pieces of ID that allow people to prove their identity and their address, some of those don't help blind Canadians, she said.

"I have a stack of papers on my table," Bergeron said. "I don't know what most of them are. Because most of my bills don't come in braille. If they did come in braille, that wouldn't do a lick of good if I took my braille copy of my phone bill to the polling station, since I doubt anybody there reads braille.:

The CNIB is talking to Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, about qualifying the CNIB card as proof of address as well as proof of identity, she said.

Losing vouching will 'impede' vote

Poilievre says the government has to eliminate the vouching process used by people without the right ID. He says the process is open to fraud and that there were 50,000 errors in the last federal election.

Harry Neufeld, the expert who wrote the report from which Poilievre took the error rate, says most of the errors were administrative ones like not filling in the right boxes on the form. He says he's seen no evidence of voter fraud.

Vouching lets someone who casts a ballot at the same polling station swear that a voter lives where he or she claims to.

Poilievre also wants to eliminate the use of voter information cards, mailed to voters' homes, as proof of address. Elections Canada ran a pilot project in the 2011 federal election that let 400,000 people use their voter information cards as proof of address, targeting Canadians who live on reserves, students, and people in long-term care.

Bergeron says the voter information cards don't help people with vision problems, because they feel like junk mail when they come in the mail.

She said eliminating vouching will "impede" blind and partially sighted Canadians.

"If vouching isn't available, there are going to be some blind and partially sighted people in this country who will have a difficult time obtaining the identification they're going to need," Bergeron said.

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