Mel Tanzman, Executive Director
Today is Election Day and I set out this morning to perform my duty as a citizen. My disability does not necessitate my utilizing the accessible voting machine, known as the “Ballot Marking Devise”, however, I was challenged to use it to experience the barriers a person with a disability may face when trying to vote. These machines are designed to allow a person to vote independently and privately regardless of their ability to see, write, or fill out a paper ballot. The size of the print can be adjusted for those who have low vision, or the ballot can be heard through an audio option. The ballot can be completed using an easy control unit similar to a video game controller or for those who cannot use their hands a “sip and puff” control. For the first time ever, many people with disabilities are able to vote in a polling place and not rely on an absentee ballot or the assistance of another.
Well, that’s the ideal scenario; however, this morning showed that we still have a long way to go to achieve it. When I arrived at my polling place at 6:30AM this morning, I asked to use the ballot marking devise. The Election Inspector seemed somewhat anxious as she had never used the devise with a voter, although she had received training multiple times. While she was very helpful and sincere it was evident that the machine was not tested the morning of Election Day to ensure it would be ready for voters. She attached all the required controls and told me that I could expect it would take twenty minutes to vote- Did her own anxiety cause her to discourage me from using the machine? Well the machine powered up but no image was on the monitor. Another inspector came over to assist and checked the connections on the monitor, while it would flicker on, the image would not remain. The Chair of the local Election Inspectors arrived and called her contact with the County who stated a technician would be dispatched, however they couldn’t say when he or she would arrive. Since I had to get to work I was offered the cell phone number of the Chair and she stated she would call when the technician arrived. I heard from her shortly after 9AM. Keep in mind that this response time was after I called the Democratic Deputy Elections Commissioner to alert her of the situation. Is two hours the best they can do?
While it would be easy to decry this as incompetence, I also understand the difficulties and complexity in organizing and running an election. What are the solutions? Let me offer the following modest proposals:
I. End the practices which segregate voters with disabilities: A single uniform system must be accessible to all. As long as we are treated separately, we will not have equal treatment. Problems will be fixed if they have similar impacts on all voters. To provide truly accessible voting will take commitment and resources. These will not be available if government continues to view access to the vote as not a mainstream problem.
II. People with disabilities, their friends, colleagues and family members must use the Ballot Marking Devises and encourage others to as well. More attention will be given if the issues are not viewed as problems of a small minority.
III. A public relations initiative should be carried out by NYS, educating people about the availability and benefits of using accessible voting machines.
IV. Keep refining accessible voting equipment to build confidence in the ease of voting, the security of the vote, and cross utilization by voters with disabilities and those who are temporarily able-bodied.
In this day and age when the outcome of an election depends so much on voter enthusiasm and turnout, everything should be done to encourage people to vote.