electionline Weekly - September 7, 2006 electionline.org
I. In Focus This Week
Disabled voters in New York face substantial barriers to in-person voting Justice Department settlement mandates only one accessible machine per county
By M. Mindy Moretti electionline.org
Despite a federal law that guarantees them a secret and independent ballot and a settlement between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over the implementation of that law, voters with disabilities in New York will face substantial barriers to casting in-person ballots when they go to the polls on Tuesday and again in November.
Those who choose to cast in-person ballots may have to travel great distances because, per the settlement with DOJ, the state need have only one accessible machine per county, and in New York City, one per borough.
New York lags behind the rest of the country in complying with the disability provisions of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which require access to polling places as well as machines capable of allowing those with disabilities, including visual impairments to cast ballots "in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation."
Many activists as well as advocates for the disabled dismiss the plan as a waste of time and money and not effective in alleviating accessibility woes.
"Anyone who hears this plan immediately thinks it's ridiculous," said Chris Hildebrant, director of advocacy for the Center of Disability Rights in Rochester. "It's not a plan at all."
The plan is the result of a lawsuit filed by DOJ in March, citing the state for failing to adopt voting systems accessible for voter with disabilities.
The lawsuit threatened to revoke federal funds used in New York state elections if the state did not comply with HAVA requirements by the September primaries. Additionally, DOJ required New York to submit a plan on how it intends to gain full compliance.
On June 2, the court signed off on the state's interim plan. According to Newsday, New York has thus far ordered 150 new voting machines targeted for disabled voters, costing as much as $5,000 apiece, in its implementation of "Plan B". These machines, which aid disabled voters in completing paper ballots, will not likely be used past the fall.
"The Department of Justice's rush to force the state to certify and buy computerized voting machines in time for the September primaries is a perfect storm for voting disaster," said voting activist Larry Rockefeller in a press release by a coalition of people opposed to the lawsuit and its consequences. "These machines have failed all over the country in other jurisdictions and, under this time pressure, will definitely fail New Yorkers."
New York's need for an interim plan and temporary voting machines stems from its inability to follow HAVA's proper timeline for replacing lever voting machines with newer ones.
"There was just no way at this late date that they could certify, we could pick the systems, and that we could have them up and going," Lynne Jones, the elections commissioner for Madison County, told the Oneida Daily Dispatch.
Though "Plan B" attempts to bring the state closer to HAVA compliance, many nonetheless feel that the solution contains large flaws.