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Same ol', same ol'

Despite Laws, Disabled Voters Face Barriers at Polls ran the headline in The NewStandard.

Why am I not surprised?

From the story:

People with disabilities and their advocates, a state attorney general, and the Department of Justice have filed numerous lawsuits, including in California, New York, Arizona and Alabama, alleging violations of the disability access provisions of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The Act requires states to provide at least one voting machine accessible to voters with disabilities in each polling place by January 1, 2006 and provides funds to improve access at polling stations.

Right. And it's often just being ignored.

What's going on in Westchester County, NY, is a good example. Last week, the head of the Westchester Center for Independent Living criticized the Westchester County Board of Legislators for considering a resolution supporting the county's continued use of lever-style voting machines.

The resolution, introduced by Legislator Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, calls on Westchester to join Suffolk County in suing the state Board of Elections for the right to continue using the lever machines, described as "reliable, user-friendly and cost-effective." (Story is no longer available online.)

User-friendly? To everyone but people who are blind or who can't pull levers.

This kind of stuff is going on all over the country.

Because of the furor over fraud potentials of electronic voting (see our story written this time last year), what could have become an accessible, inclusive act of citizenship -- voting -- is shaping up to get stuck in that perennial solution of "special for the handicapped": Rather than communities updating their voting systems with electronic systems (yes, yes, with paper trails!!) they opt to stick with old-fashioned voting and one new machine -- special -- at each polling site. This piece from the Santa Cruz Sentinel tells a story that's being repeated in towns nationwide.

And Santa Cruz may even be better than most. A story out Monday from the Boston Globe reports that at least two-thirds of Massachusetts' 1,700 polling places "will not have voting machines to accommodate the disabled on Election Day, according to the secretary of state's office." (Read State Lags on Voting Machines for Disabled from the civilrights.org website.)

And do read
Politicizing Accessible -- uh, Electronic -- Voting.
Comment there or here -- but do comment!


Many thanks goes to you Mary, for covering all sides of this debate. At this point, I'm, rooting for Vote-PAD and the low tech/low cost alternative to these costly, un-secure DREs. I'm going to have the president of Vote-Pad on the air as part of radio station KPFK's Election Day coverage around 2 p.m. PST. It is streamed at KPFK.org for those that care to tune in.

Thanks again, Mary.

I'm disabled and have been running a voting precinct since 2002; having the new disability-access units the last two elections has been wonderful, both for the volunteers and our voters. (We use the Hart InterCivic eSlate, which covers many disabilities.) One lady that can't control her hands to write was so excited when I asked if she'd like to use the eSlate again, her "oh yes!" sounded like a response to a marriage proposal. (Having looked at the Vote-PAD method, and knowing her this long, I'm pretty sure she couldn't aim well enough to use it.)

I do have two major gripes about how the situation is being handled. One is that our county couldn't buy the full equipment for all units -- so if a voter needs anything past the headphones, we have to call headquarters and wait around to have the relevant adapter brought to us before the person can use it. The other is that we were never trained in what to offer or how to interact with people needing those items. Worse, we were told: "we've included a paper on interacting with disabled people, like not pushing their chairs without permission, but you can read it if you get really bored on Election Day." I plan on writing an email to the County Clerk's office regarding how the topic was mishandled, just not sure what to say yet.

Working "behind the scenes" has taught me that the sense of security people have in paper ballots is misplaced... I personally would trust the eSlate over paper at the other precincts, or sometimes even over my precinct depending on who is assigned to work with me. I know we can get away with a huge amount in terms of major security violations, and that they are issues that could potentially mess with votes. (In *one* major episode, for example, my all-clear form to leave -- stating I had returned all voter-related items to the unloading area -- was signed, even though the voted ballots were in my back seat!)

What makes this scary is that because of a shortage of volunteers, we take literally anyone that will work, and things are run largely on the honor system. One clerk I had was an 85 year old jerk with dementia that made viciously bigoted remarks at certain kinds of voters (blacks, gays, etc.) until I told him to leave, and he'd been a poll-worker for decades. That the public unknowingly trusts *that* kind of person to handle ballots over a machine with repetitive paper trails is sad.

I can more happily say that I've seen three people change their minds about the system, though. Their reluctance had largely been a matter of misperceptions and ignorance... They didn't really grasp before that "anyone" could be disabled, why we'd want privacy, or that having a serious physical disability doesn't make us unable to understand or care about politics. So my hope is that this is all a matter of educating people, rather than something that will remain stuck in the political arena forever.