Disability Advocates Recommend Accessibility Improvements to In-Person Voting Systems

August 18, 2020
Disability Advocates Recommend Accessibility Improvements to In-Person Voting Systems

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) with the goal to reform the voting process throughout the United States and make it easier for all Americans to participate in our democracy. HAVA mandates that voters with disabilities have the same opportunity to vote “privately and independently” by requiring that every polling place have at least one voting system that is accessible to people with disabilities.

Accessible voting systems are typically either a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting system, which uses an electronic interface to cast and record votes electronically with or without a paper back up, or Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), that use an electronic interface to assist voters to mark selections on a paper ballot that is then cast. BMDs increase the accessibility of paper-based voting. However, no paper ballot system, currently ready for widespread use, is fully accessible. While BMD’s have made strides in marking a ballot privately and independently, BMDs must also be able to ensure that the ballot can be verified independently by people with disabilities and be cast without paper handling. It should be noted that DRE voting systems have thus far provided the best option for voting privately and independently in all three aspects of voting for all eligible voters.

To enhance the accessibility of voting systems:

  • Elections administrators must continually strive to obtain and implement the most accessible voting systems readily available.
  • Congress must invest in research and development funding to develop and test accessible voting systems that leverage advances in available technology, including optical character recognition and end-to-end verification for electronic ballot casting.

While accessible voting systems increase access to the vote, far too often voters find these accessible voting systems in practice to be poorly maintained over time, segregated at polling places, and remain a mystery for poll workers who have not set them up and turned them on for use.

To improve implementation of accessible voting systems, jurisdictions must:

  • Increase the number of accessible voting systems at polling places and vote centers and create a fully integrated voting experience in which all voters use accessible voting technology to cast their ballots.
  • Train poll workers on how to properly set up and operate the accessible voting systems to minimize technical difficulties and failure to set up voting stations at the polls.
  • Provide technical specialists to assist in calibrating and troubleshooting voting equipment during Election Day and early voting periods.
  • Broadly advertise the availability and use of accessible voting systems on election websites, mailers, and through other available channels of communication.
  • Allow voters to practice using the accessible voting system prior to Election Day and early voting periods.
  • Collaborate frequently and consistently with disability advocacy organizations and voters with disabilities to fully integrate accessibility and reasonable accommodations into elections administration, materials for voters and elections personnel, and poll worker trainings.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the P&A/CAP Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.