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April 03, 2006

Surveying and Anything But...Complying with the Law

New York State Independent Living Council, Inc. (NYSILC)
111 Washington Avenue, Suite 101, Albany, NY 12210
(518) 427-1060 Voice & TDD, (518) 427-1139 Fax
1(888) 469-7452 Toll Free (NYS Only) or

March 31, 2006
Contact Information:
Howard Schaffer
(518) 427-1060
Williams (518) 427-1060

Surveying and Anything But...Complying with the Law
The most recent diversion in New York’s attempt to implement the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) emerged from comments made to the media at the conclusion of a court hearing held on Thursday, March 23, 2006 in Albany.

All of a sudden, the state felt inspired to survey relevant stakeholders. County election commissioners are being asked to determine how many people with disabilities lived in their jurisdictions and how many were likely to vote.

Why? I can't even begin to imagine. Is the state going to send people with disabilities who "self-identify" a decal with their designated polling place notification? Will New Yorkers with disabilities be made to slap on these decals, with a "D" for "disability," on their foreheads to help election officials identify and count us? This is obviously absurd, but it is no different that the state's ongoing obsession with doing anything but complying with the law.

After being out of compliance for so long, New York needs to spend its time and resources implementing and upholding the law. There must be at least one fully accessible voting machine per polling place and every polling site must meet the access guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (US DOJ) per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), HAVA (US DOJ State of Mississippi letter, March 2005), and the State Attorney General’s February 2000 Federal District Court decision upholding the law.

If New York wants to get serious about its responsibility under HAVA and the ADA, then it should conduct a different kind of survey. The Governor, State Senators, Assembly members, and State Attorney General should all answer the following two questions before the April 10th deadline. The results can be submitted to the US DOJ and Federal Judge in the case.

1) Why won’t you eliminate the state’s full-face ballot requirement?

2) Why won’t you amend state election law to ensure every polling site is accessible consistent with federal law (US DOJ guidelines)?

State lawmakers owe it to taxpayers to explain why they insist on a ballot format first developed at the end of the 19th century, which does not adapt well to accessible options, including a state mandated voter verified paper trail, represents prototype technology for distribution in an extremely limited market, AND COSTS TWICE THE AMOUNT OF THE MORE ACCESSIBLE NON FULL-FACE BALLOT MACHINE ALTERNATIVES.

New York is in desperate need of a leader who will demand this OBVIOUS and RESPONSIBLE change. The leader must also shame any colleague that still finds it acceptable to condone the existence of inaccessible polling places.

Our current situation in New York is one of those “watershed” moments where state lawmakers need to rise to the occasion. If not, the true immoral practice will be exposed when elected officials sacrifice the voting access needs of citizens with disabilities due to laziness, indifference, or even worse, for the self-serving acts of perpetuating incumbencies, house majorities, and staff jobs.

Brad Williams, Executive Director, NYSILC

Posted by Brad Williams.