By Meghan Schoeffling Director of Advocacy
Voting is a civil right that all citizens of the United States enjoy. People with disabilities however, have a long history of being denied this right by voting systems which were not accessible. This was supposed to change with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which called for all states to adopt uniform voting systems which were accessible to people with disabilities.
For the past several years, New Yorkers with disabilities have had the option to vote on a Ballot Marking Device (BMD) which was universally designed to be accessible to everyone with various features that the user can employ depending on their need. One can make the print larger, change the color contrast, plug in headphones and vote using audio output, or even use a sip and puff device which would make it accessible to people who do not have the use of their hands and arms. For the first time, people with disabilities have been able to go to their polling place and vote privately and independently.
In 2012, the New York State legislature voted to allow the use of lever machines in municipal elections. This meant that there would be no BMDs available to ensure all of the public, including people with disabilities, have the ability to vote in these elections. This law sunsets in December 2014. However, members of the New York State legislature are actively working to make this law permanent. When our legislatures vote to allow the use of only lever machines – which are not accessible to many people with disabilities in municipal elections, we are denying a population of taxpaying citizens their Constitutional right to vote privately and independently. Both Title V (Section 504) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act require governmental entities to provide people with disabilities access to activities, programs and services provided by state and local governments. An accessible voting system falls within the purview of state and local government.
We need New Yorkers to speak out against this move to allow the use of lever machines in municipal elections. Want to know how? Contact Meghan Schoeffling at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling #914.968.4717 ext. 13.