Members of the National Coalition on Accessible Voting (NCAV) commented on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s proposed rule establishing specific requirements and technical standards for accessible websites and mobile apps. Many people complete part of their voting process online, whether that is through online voter registration, finding information on how to vote, or requesting an absentee ballot. Some people with disabilities can only complete part of the process online. The proposed rule, therefore, helps ensure people with disabilities can exercise their fundamental right to vote.
In its comments, the NCAV recommended the use of World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2. The WCAG is the most widely used web accessibility standard. NCAV recommended that the DOJ speak with advocacy organizations, civil rights organizations, other government agencies, and web developers to determine if higher standards are necessary.
All agencies that must adhere to the final rule must have websites and apps that meet its standards within a certain amount of time. This amount of time is two years for agencies governing locations with a population of more than 50,000. The DOJ recommends three years for agencies governing locations with less than 50,000 people. NCAV recommends that the DOJ limit the compliance date to two years regardless of population size. The size of a town does not correspond to the number of people with disabilities that live there. Voting is also time-sensitive, and if websites are not fully accessible during the voting period, a person with a disability will not be able to vote. Population size does not change an election’s importance to the lives of constituents, which is why NCAV recommends using only the shorter compliance date.
NCAV nonetheless understands that many public entities may require help from the federal government to understand the proposed rule within these two years and urges the DOJ to provide relevant outreach and support. The proposed rule also contains exceptions, meaning that some website or app content may not have to adhere to the rule. One such exception is for web content created by a third party that is linked in a covered agency’s social media posts. For example, if the state of Maryland’s Board of Elections Twitter linked a post from CNN, that would be third-party content linked by a covered agency. NCAV recommended that DOJ explain exactly how the exception works because it only applies if the content is not shared as a way for the agency to do its job, which is sharing information on voting in the Board of Elections’ case. Third-party content that contains vital information about voting should remain accessible.
NCAV recommends that the DOJ release guidance about how public entities should update voting-related content after the publication of its final rule. Because voting is managed differently in each area, voting-related web content and systems are different across voting districts. By providing detailed guidance, the DOJ can prevent confusion and help standardize what compliant websites look like among covered agencies and groups.
Web accessibility is integral to ensuring that the voices of all voters are heard in our democratic process. The NCAV’s comments help DOJ ensure web accessibility.