The Soldier's Right to a Secret Ballot
In a September 3 editorial, The New York Times criticized a plan to let members of the military fax or email their ballots. The first problem identified? Anyone voting that way will have to waive the right to a secret ballot -- and that, the editors assert, is a "fundamentally undemocratic requirement."
The Pentagon, say the editors, hasn't explained why it's okay to ask soldiers to waive their right to a secret ballot; Laughlin McDonald of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, they say, "says he cannot recall another group of voters being asked to give up such secrecy."
Apparently Laughlin McDonald doesn't read Ragged Edge. Back in June, Ragged Edge editor Mary Johnson explained why people who cannot read and mark paper ballots need voting machines that are accessible to them in order to cast secret votes. "When you can't vote without relying on someone else to read the ballot for you -- and to mark your choice -- you lose not only your right to a secret ballot. You are also never sure -- truly sure -- that the person voting for you is actually putting down the voting choice you want. When you can't stand up at a traditional voting booth, you must be given a different means of voting -- usually this has meant a paper ballot, if you have the hand dexterity to mark one. Otherwise you must again rely on someone else to cast your vote for you -- and you are robbed of the right of a secret vote."
But, Johnson also said, "Most people -- progressives included -- do not seem to feel that a disabled person's lack of access to a truly secret ballot -- whether due to barriers for a wheelchair user or barriers for a blind person -- is the same as, say, the poll tax or literacy test required of blacks in the 1940s." In light of the Times editorial, I'd go a step further: I'd suggest that the editors of The New York Times and the people working on voting rights for the ACLU don't seem to think that a disabled person's lack of access to a truly secret ballot is the same as, say, a soldier's lack of access to exactly the same thing.
To the extent that the soldiers' votes are being handled by a system put in place by their employer, the Department of Defense, they have a point. Disabled people facing access problems at polling places, after all, aren't being asked to let group home providers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, or Jerry Lewis handle their votes.
But to suggest that no other group of voters is going into the November election facing the lack of secrecy that members of the military are is at best to suggest total ignorance of the questions disability rights groups have raised and at worst to suggest total indifference. Disabled people deserve better than that from mainstream civil rights groups and newspapers.
The Republicans met last week to eager chants of "Four more years!" Disability rights activists can pause this week to wearily pledge four more years too; and then we can resume the long march toward justice.
Posted Sept. 7, 2004Media Circus article was Hey, Phil, How's Discrimination Workin' For You?
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