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Research Report

The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Accessibility

Published: October 10, 2006

Traditionally, many voters with disabilities have been unable to cast their ballots without assistance from personal aides or poll workers. Those voters do not possess the range of visual, motor, and cognitive facilities typically required to operate common voting systems. For example, some are not be able to hold a pen or stylus to mark a ballot that they must see and read. Thus, the voting experience for citizens who cannot perform certain tasks reading a ballot, holding a pointer or pencil has not been equal to that of their peers without disabilities.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 took a step forward in addressing this longstanding inequity. According to HAVA, new voting systems must allow voters with disabilities to complete and cast their ballots in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.1 In other words, as jurisdictions purchase new technologies designed to facilitate voting in a range of areas, they must ensure that new systems provide people with disabilities with an experience that mirrors the experience of other voters.

This report is designed to help state and local jurisdictions improve the accessibility of their voting systems. We have not conducted any direct accessibility testing of existent technologies. Rather, we set forth a set of critical questions for election officials and voters to use when assessing available voting systems, indicate whether vendors have provided any standard or custom features designed to answer these accessibility concerns, and offer an evaluation of each architectures limitations in providing an accessible voting experience to all voters.

The report thus provides a foundation of knowledge from which election officials can begin to assess a voting systems accessibility. The conclusions of this report are not presented as a substitute for the evaluation and testing of a specific manufacturers voting system to determine how accessible a system is in conjunction with a particular jurisdictions election procedures and system configuration. We urge election officials to include usability and accessibility testing in their product evaluation process.