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Accessible Voting Advocates Accused Of Being Too Tight With Electronic Voting Machine Makers
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 11, 2004

UNITED STATES--Friday's New York Times ran an opinion piece suggesting that disability rights advocates have gotten "too close" to manufacturers of electronic voting machines in their efforts to make elections more accessible.

Since before the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, disability rights groups and individual advocates have been pushing for accessible polling places and voting systems that would allow every voter to independently cast a secret ballot. The problems with the outdated punch card voting systems became more public during the 2000 general elections. That prompted the federal government to pass the Help America Vote Act, which gave specific guidelines and timelines for polling places to use accessible voting systems.

Electronic voting systems have been favored by disability groups because they have large buttons that can be pressed easily, optional headphones for voters who cannot read because of blindness or other disabilities, along with the option to have the ballot read to them repeatedly to avoid errors.

One problem with some of the electronic systems, however, is that they do not leave a paper trail -- an important feature when ballots might need to be verified or recounted. Additionally, early tests showed that computer hackers could tamper with and alter election results.

The New York Times editorial noted that the National Federation of the Blind, which has been leading a campaign for accessible voting, recently accepted a $1 million gift for a new training institute from Diebold, a leading manufacturer of touchscreen voting systems. Another group leading the movement toward electronic voting, the American Association of People with Disabilities, has received $26,000 from voting machine companies so far this year.

"The real issue, though, is that disability-rights groups have been clouding the voting machine debate by suggesting that the nation must choose between accessible voting and verifiable voting," the editorial read. "It is well within the realm of technology to produce machines that meet both needs."

"Meanwhile, it would be a grave mistake for election officials to rush to spend millions of dollars on paperless electronic voting machines that may quickly become obsolete."

Those who support electronic voting argue that touchscreen systems have been found to be much more accurate than traditional paper systems.

In a related note, the AAPD's Justice For All listserve distributed an alert this week asking advocates to contact members of the League of Women Voters and encourage them to continue to support electronic touchscreen systems during their convention this weekend.

Also, Orange County, California has been given approval by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to use electronic systems in the November general elections. Several counties had been prohibited from using the systems after questions surfaced regarding their reliability. Shelley had given a long list of things that needed to be done so the counties could use the systems.

Orange County chose to meet Shelley's requirements. The counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and Plumas have challenged Shelley's ban by filing a federal lawsuit, which is scheduled to be heard next month.

Related:
"The Disability Lobby and Voting" (New York Times - free registration required)

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/11/opinion/11FRI1.html
"State Lifts Ban on O.C. E-Voting" (Los Angeles Times - free registration required)
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-evote11jun11,1,7175596.story
"Voting accessibility under attack!" (JFA alert)
http://www.dimenet.com/hotnews/cgi/getlink.cgi?3907R

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