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Brennan Center Report Finds Most Voting Machines Fail to Address Needs of the Disabled

October 10, 2006

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Contact Information:
Jonathan Rosen, BerlinRosen Public Affairs (646) 452–5637

Brennan Center Report Finds Most Voting Machines Fail to Address Needs of the Disabled

Voting Experience of Disabled Citizens Still Unequal, Demeaning and Time-Consuming

Report Provides Guidance for Local Election Officials In Assessing Needs of the Disabled When Selecting Voting Technology

New York, NY The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, today released a report and policy proposals, concluding that many jurisdictions must do more to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act and the U.S. Election Assistance Commissions Voluntary Voting System Guidelines regarding access for the disabled. The report provides specific guidance for state and local election officials in assessing the needs of the disabled when selecting and using voting technology.

As we approach the 2006 election, states and localities across the country have made major strides to improve the voting experience for Americans with a range of disabilities but we still have a long way to go, stated Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Brennan Center report, The Machinery of Democracy: Accessibility of Voting Systems, will serve as a road map for election officials seeking to maximize participation of disabled voters in the electoral process.

Among the reports key recommendations:

  • Assessments of voting system accessibility must take into account the specific needs of citizens with multiple disabilities.
  • To determine accessibility, officials and advocates should examine each step a voting system requires a voter to perform, starting with ballot marking and ending with ballot submission.
  • Accessibility tests must take into account a full range of disabilities.
  • All accessibility tests should be conducted with full ballots that reflect the complexity of ballots used in election, not with simplified ballots with few races.
  • Election officials should obtain contractual guarantees from vendors that purchased systems will be retrofitted with new accessibility features as they become available at little or no extra cost.

In the United States, approximately 40 million adults have some form of disability. Failure to fix the voting process for these citizens so that they can vote on a secret ballot using the voting machines in their local precinct weakens our democracy and compromises the integrity of our electoral process. Its imperative that state and local election officials get this right, said Waldman.

The report concludes that computer-based systems offer the greatest accessibility to voters with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments. These systems allow voters to tailor a range of features to their individual needs instantly and without assistance by another person.

The Brennan Center examined the six types of voting systems and found only two that satisfy the requirements set forth by HAVA and the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines: Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems and Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs). The report concludes that these two systems alone allow voters to listen to voting instructions and ballot information through headphones and to adjust the volume and rate of the audio output. The use of different voices for instructions and ballot selections enables understanding and comfort. For voters with mild vision impairments who may not need the audio assistance, computer interfaces provides an enhanced visual display that uses bigger and bolder text.

The report catalogues a nine-step analysis of each of the six systems, assessing all aspects of accessibility.

These assessments are meant to be used as guidelines to help local election officials apply the standards of HAVA and the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines to the selection and use of their machines, said Lawrence D. Norden, Associate Counsel and Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Technology Assessment Project.

Today, six years after the disputed presidential election in Florida, the voting experience for disabled citizens who cant perform certain tasks like reading a ballot, or holding a pencil is still unequal to that of their peers without disabilities. As a result, millions of disabled Americans continue to regard voting as an embarrassing, demeaning and time consuming experience. Not surprisingly, the majority of disabled Americans do not vote. Our hope is that this report can help begin to change that, concluded Norden.