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Posted by Philip on 5 September 2014, 3:29 pm in , , , , , ,

I had restricted access to voting booth then was treated like a second-class citizen by election officials because I use a wheelchair

orange elections mascotUPDATE 09 September 2014: I'm pleased to say I have been contacted by the Electoral Commission and the Grey Lynn Returning Officer since writing this email/post.

Email to the Electoral Commission

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

I have just been to Grey Lynn Community Centre to cast a special vote. As I use a wheelchair I checked elections.org.nz to ensure access — the site listed it as fully wheelchair accessible. When I arrived the door being used had a step. I entered through the centre's main door and went to the inside door of the Oval Room. My PA went to open the door and it was blocked by a table. He was told to use the inaccessible entrance. He then had to argue with staff to convince them to move the table to allow me access. Neither of us received any apology.

After voting I approached a staff member to inform him that the centre was listed as fully accessible. He refused to listen to me and engaged instead with my companion, saying that he couldn't discuss my vote with me. I said that I didn't wish to discuss my vote and repeated my concern. The staff member then proceeded to give excuses about why they couldn't make the accessible door available, saying the furniture wouldn't fit (which, in fact, it did). Again, no acknowledgement or apology was given.

I consider this treatment unacceptable and a fundamental breach of my right as a citizen to exercise my democratic duty to vote without duress due to my disability status. I would like a full explanation of why this happened and an assurance that this issue has been addressed, at this site and others listed as fully accessible on your website. If this cannot be guaranteed then I would ask that the status be downgraded to partially accessible.

I would appreciate a satisfactory response within five working days otherwise I will consider escalating the matter to the Human Rights Commission.

Thank you for your time.

Yours faithfully

PHILIP PATSTON

Now, before you say, "Haven't I heard Philip say he was questioning whether or not to vote and now he's calling it his democratic duty. What gives?" you're right, I was conflicted, even up to a few weeks ago. But the last couple of weeks has made me realise that now, more than ever, it's important to make your vote count. The political system is screwed up and you're damned if you do or don't.

However, this is not about voting — it's about civil society and citizenship. In 2014, in a Westernised country, if I'd had my access to any state-related activity impeded — and my expression of concern about it ignored — for any other reason (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political or religious belief), most people would consider it an outrage. 

I'm betting though that many people will think I'm making a fuss over nothing — I got to vote, they're doing their best, blah blah. Well, it's not good enough. I also know that the Electoral Commission had no external input about accessibility in their officials' training. How do I know? Because I did it last election and offered to do it again this year. My offer was refused.

Sour grapes? I'd argue no. I would only point out that when I voted last time, it was accessible and I was treated with respect.

Coincidence? Maybe. But it's still not good enough.

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