I received this Election Day story from Suzanne Erb. I finally met Suzanne at last year’s Take Back America Conference in Washington DC. Because of our mutual interest in election integrity, we had corresponded a number of times before that. I included her bio at the end of this piece so you can get a sense of who she is. E-Voting: Boon Or Bane for the Blind? is Suzanne’s own Election Day experience.
As I read Diane and Alton’s tale, Leviticus 19:14 kept running through my head. "Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind." HAVA, the misnamed Help America Vote Act of 2002, was sold to the American public in part as a way to offer the disabled community voting independence. It has failed miserably at that task, as demonstrated by California’s Top to Bottom Review last summer. Despite the fact that all four systems tested there had received federal and state certification, “none met the accessibility requirements of current law and none performed satisfactorily in test voting by persons with a range of disabilities and alternate language needs.” (From the Executive Summary of the Bowen Report.) I highly recommend the 7/31/2007 article by John Gideon of Voters Unite, on how this all came to pass.
So, it saddens but does not surprise me that disabled voters continue to have problems with the very machines that were supposed to ‘save’ them.
Diane and Alton’s story
This year was no exception. They didn't know whether or not they'd be able to vote independently and privately, if they would get proper assistance, or if they would be able to vote at all. Ever since Philadelphia has been using the Danaher 1242 machines with an audio component for blind people, Diane and Alton have attempted to vote using this special component. The first time they voted, the audio actually worked and, although voting was time consuming, they enjoyed the process of casting their own votes without
assistance. The next time they voted, the audio component was not working
properly, and it never has worked for them, since that first time.
This time was perhaps the worst. Not only could they not use the machine, but the person who assisted them in the booth was practically illiterate. Not
only did he have trouble pronouncing some of the candidates names, but he
also almost forgot to read them the questions that were listed at the bottom
of the ballot. Fortunately, Diane and Alton knew the questions and the
answers they wanted him to choose for them. If they hadn't, they probably
would not have had the opportunity to answer those questions.
to believe that these machines would make it possible for them to vote
independently and privately, and they feel betrayed by everyone who told
them that the machines would help them to be more independent. When I
described the Vote-PAD, a tactile ballot marking device, they expressed
interest and wondered why it is not available in Pennsylvania.
Thousands of blind people have been betrayed by those who led us to believe
that, by using these machines, we would gain our independence and privacy in the voting booth. Like our sighted brothers and sisters, we can not verify
whether our vote has been counted as cast. But, what's more, we were led to believe that we would finally have the right to have our vote cast and
counted just like everyone else. Little did we know what that actually
Suzanne Erb has established herself as a unique presence in Philadelphia. Blind since birth, she has refused to allow any thought of disability to hinder either her career or personal life. Ms. Erb has held a variety of jobs of increasing responsibility ever since her work for the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, after her graduation from Bryn Mawr College with a B.A. in Musicology. She went on to earn an M.S. in Psychological Services from the University of Pennsylvania, has founded several community-based outreach organizations, and has worked for Philadelphia’s School District, the city’s Department of Human Services, the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Affirmative Action and Abilitech, a local training and job placement organization for those with physical, sensory or learning disabilities. She is also an expert in computer technology for the disabled. Most recently, Ms. Erb worked for the Jewish Employment and Vocational Services (JEVS), supervising case managers, performing job counseling and publicly representing the agency on various disability related issues. She is a passionate believer in civic responsibility, and has served on the boards or committees of such groups as the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, Pennsylvania’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Associated Services for the Blind, and the Tenants’ Action Group of Philadelphia. She also testified for Congress in Washington, D.C., for a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Social Security reform, and has authored several influential publications. Beyond all of these activities, Ms. Erb still finds time to pursue her work as a church organist and vocal soloist, and is a past member of the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia. She resides in the city with her ever-loyal seeing-eye dog Pattie.
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