New Report: States Not Meeting Access Requirements For Voters With Disabilities

Release Date: 
February 14, 2007

Washington, DC — Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, once considered essential to ensuring private and independent voting booth access for voters with disabilities, often do not work as promised, according to a new report published today. Authored by access technology expert Noel Runyan and published by election reform groups Demos and Voter Action, "Improving Access to Voting: A Report on the Technology for Accessible Voting Systems," shows that, due to inadequate or malfunctioning voting machines, voters with disabilities are frequently forced to ask for assistance or compromise the privacy of their vote--severe violations of federal disability accommodation requirements.

The report details significant difficulties for voters with disabilities, including: the lack of a controllable interface for those who are unable to use touch screens or tactile key inputs; inadequate audio access features for people with visual or cognitive impairments, with dyslexia, or with severe motor-impairments; and lack of privacy curtains to prevent others from reading the voters' selections on their visual displays.

"I originally had high hopes for the new voting machines" said Noel Runyan, the author of the report. Runyan, who is blind, is a professional electrical engineer who has spent much of his career developing access technologies for people with visual impairments. "Even with my technical background and the help of poll workers, I could not get the Sequoia Edge II DRE to work. I have since tested most of the available voting systems at conferences and at the National Federation of the Blind's accessible voting systems lab, and my fears have been confirmed: Most of the DREs deployed were not designed with real disability access in mind."

States have been required to provide at least one accessible voting system per polling place since the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, legislation designed to guarantee a fair and secure vote for all voters. To comply with this requirement, many states, armed with new federal dollars, rushed to purchase DREs specifically because they were billed as accurate, quick, and accessible to voters with various disabilities. These efforts failed, and the report details the variety of ways current voting systems fall short of federal standards.

"Improving Access to Voting" also makes a series of additional recommendations to address these concerns, such as using simultaneous audio-video output, enhanced video display controls, dual-switch input controls and voting aids like electronic video magnifiers and tactile ballot marking systems.

"There will never be one perfect voting machine that meets all accessibility needs," Runyan said. "So election administrators should adopt blended systems, such as a combination of optical scan ballots, electronic ballot marking devices with appropriate accessibility features, and multi-lingual paper ballots."

"This report shifts the debate about voting systems. The question is no longer 'Do we have to trade off accessibility to get secure voting systems?'" said Susannah Goodman, Director of the Federal Elections Program at Common Cause. "The question is 'Does Congress have the political will to replace the currently deployed voting systems with systems that are both secure and accessible?'"

"Since the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, a small handful of voting machine companies have made an enormous profit selling DREs as the most accessible technology on the market," said John Bonifaz, Senior Legal Fellow at Demos and a consulting attorney to Voter Action. "This report directly challenges that assumption. Congress should recommit itself to truly providing accessibility for all voters with disabilities, a promise that has not been fulfilled by the DRE technology."

For more information or to download a copy of the "Improving Access to Voting" report, visit archive.demos.org or www.voteraction.org.

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