Are electronic voting machines accessible to disabled voters?
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Sep. 2005 report "Elections: Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, But Key Activities Need to be Completed," stated:
"Examples of options for voters who are blind include Braille keyboards and audio interfaces. At least one vendor reported that its DRE accommodates voters with neurological disabilities by offering head movement switches and 'sip and puff' plug-ins. Using a mouth-held straw, the voter issues switch commands - hard puff, hard sip, soft puff, and soft sip - to provide signals or instructions to the voting machine. Another option is voice recognition capability, which allows voters to make selection orally."
Tova Andrea Wang, Executive Director of the Century Foundation's Post-2004 Election Reform Working Group, wrote in her May 26, 2004 article "Understanding the Debate Over Electronic Voting Machines," available on the Century Foundation website:
voting machines] can be made fully accessible to the disabled,
including the visually impaired. In the next election, may disabled
voters will, for the first time ever, be able to cast private, secret
ballots at their polling sites. DREs [Direct Recording Electronic
voting machines] have the capacity for features such as audio voting
for the visually impaired and hand-held voting devices for voters with
limited physical dexterity."
Jim Dickson, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), explained in his May 5, 2004 testimony before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission:
to the development of the DRE, voters with disabilities were not able
to cast a secret ballot... Americans with disabilities cannot cast a
secret ballot because they require assistance of someone to help them
fill out the ballot. Touchscreens are the only system which allows a
voter with a disability to cast a secret and independent vote...
audio ballot and adaptive aids, such as sip and puff and jelly
switches, make it possible for all of these citizens to cast a secret
and independent ballot... Tens of millions of Americans can and will
vote secretly and independently if, and only if, they use a touchscreen
Diebold Election Systems, an electronic voting machine manufacturer, included a document titled "Diebold Election Systems Solutions" on their website (accessed July 10, 2006) which stated:
impaired voters can use the AccuVote-TSx with ease, as voice-guidance
is available to step the voter through the entire ballot in private...
The easy touch operation of the touch-screen and the ability to
position the terminal screen at a right angle to the voting booth
enables easy access for those individuals with unique accessibility
requirements. The user-friendly touch-screen allows the use of a finger
or virtually any object as the method used to make selections."
Election Systems and Software (ES&S), an electronic voting machine manufacturer, stated in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of their website (accessed July 10, 2006):
iVotronic has an Audio Ballot feature, which enables any voter to be
able to interact with their ballot in a totally secure and unassisted
fashion. Using the Audio iVotronic provides the disabled voter all of
the privacy and safeguards other voters have enjoyed. Voters in wheel
chairs can be accommodated through special height booths, tabletop
deployment, or laptop voting due to the lightweight and wireless
operation of the system."
Dan McCrea, Co-Founder of Florida Voters Coalition, in a May 16, 2007 VotetrustUSA.org article entitled "All Voters Deserve Paper Ballots - Voters With Disabilities Must Not Be Left Behind," wrote:
"This is an historic day... when those
demanding the security of paper ballots and those demanding HAVA
compliant accessibility for voters with disabilities speak with one
unified voice. Listen up, state and county officials. No voter should
be left behind, especially in the name of equality. That is simply
absurd. It’s time to scrap your DREs and replace them with
non-tabulating ballot marking devices, providing all voters paper
ballots – no exceptions."
Ellen Theisen, CEO of the Vote-PAD Company, wrote in her 2005 report "Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections":
"Feedback from 14 blind and visually impaired voters in Santa Clara County, California showed that many of them found the Sequoia voting machines unacceptable and were disappointed that Sequoia didn't listen to their suggestions. They said the machines performed poorly and were anything but user-friendly in the March  election."
The San Jose Mercury News ran an article on May 15, 2004 titled "Blind Voters Rip E-Machines," in which Elise Ackerman wrote:
few of our members were able to vote privately, independently, despite
Santa Clara County's supposed accessible touch screens,' Dawn Wilcox,
president of the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind, wrote in a letter
to the registrar of voters after the March  primary. 'I feel this
is an unacceptable state of affairs,'...
said in an interview that she surveyed more than 50 members of her
group after hearing anecdotal accounts of Election Day snafus. Only two
members said the machines functioned smoothly. About a dozen provided
detailed descriptions of the problems they experienced using the audio
technology that was supposed to guide them through the ballot and then
cast a vote in secret...
the criticisms provided by voters was poor sound quality, delayed
response time and Braille that was positioned so awkwardly it could be
read upside down. [Sam] Chen, a retired college professor, also said
the audio message required blind voters to press a yellow button.
'Yellow means nothing to me,' Chen said."
Kelly Pierce, a blind voter, stated in his Mar. 23, 2005 paper "Accessibility Analysis of Four Proposed Voting Machines," available at the VotersUnite website:
document reviews the four voting machines displayed on March 15, 2005
by the Office of the Cook County Clerk and the Chicago Board of
Election Commissioners... Unfortunately, if any one of the four
machines were to be deployed in Chicago or suburban Cook County as
exhibited on March 15, many voters with disabilities, particularly
blind voters, would not be able to cast a ballot independently and
common refrain from the representatives from the voting machine
companies when errors and omissions were found in the interface was
that in an actual election 'a poll worker would help,'... Beyond
turning on a voting machine and orienting a disabled user to the
machine's controls, troubleshooting and problem diagnostics may be
beyond the level of training and preparation of many poll workers...
the electronic machines represent a significant advance in
accessibility from the current poll worker assistance system they often
fail to effectively communicate the voting process to audio voters or
are physically designed in a way that does not meet the current
consensus on accessible design as crafted by the technology industry,
the disability community, and leading national government
Aleda Devies, a retired systems engineer, stated in her June 22, 2005 article "Touch Screen Not Best Choice for Disabled Voters" Daytona Beach News-Journal:
is not acceptable to accommodate some of the disabled community and
expect the rest of us to live with 'business as usual.' That is
discrimination, and it is not legal. Accommodating people with
differing disabilities requires great flexibility in an accessible
voting machine. What works for the visually or hearing or cognitively
impaired does not necessarily work for people with mobility
impairments. That is one specific shortcoming with the touch-screen
machines which have been under consideration in Volusia County
[Florida]. People with limited use of their hands and arms may not be
able to use the touch-screens. Quadriplegics (people who are disabled
from the neck downward like the late actor Christopher Reeve) cannot
use a touch-screen in the same way as someone who has use of their