Getting Ahead of the Curve

Getting Ahead of the Curve

The Florida Council of the Blind (FCB) on 05-20-2018 unanimously passed a resolution calling for the Florida Secretary of State to require that electronic Poll Books be accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Immediate past President and Chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Paul Edwards, explained that in the past, the FCB had raised accessibility concerns about voting machines and vote by mail systems after the fact of their design and purchase. This time we are getting ahead of the curve on electronic poll books.
The Florida Council of the Blind has now joined with the California Council of the Blind and the Michigan National Federation of the Blind in calling on their states to assure accessibility in the latest wave of new election technologies to begin entering the polling place. These resolutions are being forwarded to the respective national conventions in a request for national action.
Electronic poll books are coming, and they must be accessible to people with disabilities. They bring security, transparency, and the direct involvement of the voter in the verification of their eligibility to participate in the election process.
Engaging the voter at this level of participation assures them that their information is correct and provides a clearer understanding of the process including the issues that require a person to cast a provisional Ballot. This releases the poll worker from the difficult and sometimes frustrating task of telling a voter why they must vote provisionally or not at all.
Providing accessible poll books can present the voter who is blind or visually impaired with the same information often posted in the polling place to inform voters of changes made in the election after the ballot was printed. Often poll workers do not have the time to inform voters with these disabilities of the posted information.
Americans with disabilities want to participate in the entire election process. Why is it that Secretaries of State, Election Directors, and local level election officials often appear surprised and even annoyed when we ask for accessibility to be required in the development of new technologies like electronic poll books? In effect they are saying that they are providing accessible voting machines and polling places so people with disabilities should be satisfied. Let the word go forth from this time and place, that we will not be satisfied until accessibility throughout society is a matter of course and not a source of frustration and annoyance. Accessibility must extend to all parts of community life and most especially elections where the fate of our lives is determined.
The population of Americans with disabilities is growing and we take our responsibility as citizens seriously. Accessible elections at all levels of technology and location are necessary for our participation to be confirmed as respected. As a person with a disability myself I am growing frustrated at the fact that twenty-eight years after the Americans With Disabilities Act came into being accessibility is still often an afterthought.
Americans with disabilities can in fact be the largest voting block across the nation. Could it be that this is the reason accessibility in the election process is given little thought if any? Could it be that this effort to keep us from voting independently and privately is the most insidious institutional hate crime of all?
Just like with many other industries the election world is being made more inclusive by technology. Perhaps I should say that it can be if the obstructionists would get out of the way of democracy. The more technology we have supporting our election process the more inclusive and free it will be. Elections can be both secure and inclusive at the same time.
Many would argue that the more transparent and inclusive of everyone including Americans with disabilities our elections are the more secure they will be. Only the smallest of minds with the self-centered points of view seek to limit the number of Americans who can vote freely, independently and privately. They seek to guard the process as if it belongs to them alone.
Accessible electronic poll books just like accessible vote by mail systems provide all voters with a view into the process and the ability to vote at a time and place of their choosing free from hardship and influence. Is that what narrow incumbent gate keepers are afraid of? If we make it to transparent and to easy, then many Americans will exercise their most basic and important right as a citizen? The right to vote.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.