Last updated on: 4/23/2008 12:25:00 PM PST
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."
Sep. 2005 - US Government Accountability Office (GAO)
GAO Report (1,294KB)
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:
"[Electronic 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."
May 26, 2004 - Tova Andrea Wang, JD
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:
"Prior 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...
The 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 voting machine."
May 5, 2004 - Jim Dickson
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:
"Visually 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."
July 10, 2006 - Diebold Election Systems, Inc.
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):
"ES&S' 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."
July 10, 2006 - Election Systems and Software, Inc. (ES&S)
Dan McCrea, Co-Founder of Florida Voters Coalition, in a May 16, 2007 article for the VotetrustUSA website 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."
May 16, 2007 - Dan McCrea
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."
2005 - Ellen Theisen, MA
The San Jose Mercury News ran an article on May 15, 2004 titled "Blind Voters Rip E-Machines," in which Elise Ackerman wrote:
"'Very 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,'...
Wilcox 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...
Among 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."
May 15, 2004 - San Jose Mercury News
Kelly Pierce, a blind voter, stated in his Mar. 23, 2005 paper "Accessibility Analysis of Four Proposed Voting Machines," available at the VotersUnite website:
"This 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 privately.
A 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...
While 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 institutions."
Mar. 23, 2005 - Kelly Pierce
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:
"It 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 hands."
June 22, 2005 - Aleda Devies