Handicapped Voters And DREs Don't Mix Well

Articles here are reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.


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Blind voters rip e-machines


Modifications due

Survey questioned

Voters' complaints

Americans with disabilities call for election systems featuring both accessibility and security



Blind Voters Rip E-Machines by Elise Ackerman

©2004 San Jose Mercury News



They say defects thwart goal of enfranchising sight-impaired

May 14, 2004 — Disabled-rights groups have been some of the strongest supporters of electronic voting, but blind voters in Santa Clara County said the machines performed poorly and were anything but user-friendly in the March election.

"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."

Concern about the security of electronic voting machines has set off a national debate about the benefits of digital ballots. They were supposed to enfranchise 10 million blind Americans who have never cast a ballot without assistance. But computer scientists have warned that the machines' software code is uniquely vulnerable to error and fraud. The machines' reliability also has been questioned after a range of reports of mechanical glitches during the California primary and elsewhere.

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 had 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 help them cast a vote in secret.

Four voters said the audio function did not appear to work at all. Others waited up to half an hour for poll workers to troubleshoot the devices. Sam Chen, a retired college professor, said he was happy to finally hear an initial message, but then the machine balked. After struggling for an hour, Chen asked a poll worker to cast a ballot on his behalf. "I wish I had voted on my own," he said.

Elaine Larson, assistant registrar of voters in Santa Clara County, said poll workers were given extensive training and written materials but many still had trouble activating the audio equipment on the Sequoia Voting Systems machines. "It was a new system that had not been used before," she said.

Larson said she did not believe the machines malfunctioned and said the county would try to give poll workers more hands-on experience before the November election. She said the county also would instruct poll workers to set up the audio equipment before voters arrived.

Modifications due


Sequoia spokesman Alfie Charles said the company would factor the comments into future design enhancements. He said some earlier modifications already had been submitted for approval by federal and state certifying bodies. "We want to continue to make our products as user-friendly as possible," he said.

Wilcox's survey of blind voters has roiled the disabled-rights community, which lobbied heavily for a federal law requiring every polling place in every state to provide at least one electronic voting machine equipped for disabled voters by 2006.

Last week, three disabled-rights organizations sued California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley for prohibiting the use of electronic machines unless they meet stringent security requirements.

"The secretary's decertification orders will deny voters with disabilities the right to vote independently, in secret and without third-party assistance," the lawsuit stated.

Shelley has said he is concerned that electronic machines, which record votes digitally, are not "stable, reliable and secure enough" to be used until they produce paper receipts of ballots cast.

The report by the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind shows "the gap between the advertised accessibility of these machines and the reality," said Will Doherty, an executive director of the Verified Voting Foundation, an advocacy group that supports Shelley's directive.

Survey questioned


John McDermott, an attorney representing the American Association of People With Disabilities, the California Council of the Blind, the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and 12 disabled voters in the suit against Shelley, said he did not believe the Silicon Valley survey was representative.

Only one of the plaintiffs suing Shelley had used an accessible voting machine, also known as touch screens. However, McDermott said he was confident "most disabled individuals with visual and manual disabilities are totally in favor of touch screens."

Noel Runyan, a blind voter and computer scientist who is an expert in designing accessible systems, said touch screens are a good idea in theory, but they need a thorough redesign to work in practice. He said the voting companies appeared to have ignored feedback they solicited from groups of blind voters as they were developing their systems.

Voters' complaints


Among the criticism provided by voters was poor sound quality, delayed response time and braille that was positioned so awkwardly it could only be read upside down. Chen, the college professor, also said the audio message required blind voters to press a yellow button. "Yellow means nothing to me," Chen said.

"I personally want them to be decertified for this election," Runyan said. " We need to make a strong statement that all these machines need to be redesigned on the user interface side. We've got a mistake here."


Contact Elise Ackerman at eackerman@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3774.


Americans with disabilities call for election systems featuring both accessibility and security


Reproduced from Voter Action

Voters with disabilities, sensory impairments, and special language needs have long been disenfranchised in large numbers as a result of lack of access to the voting process. For many of us, the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 held tremendous hope and promise for secure and reliable voting, a guarantee that every voter would have access to the voting process.

Electronic ballot systems such as the direct record electronic (DRE) machines (formerly called "touch screens") now in use have quickly proven to be neither fully accessible to all voters nor secure and accurate methods of recording, tallying, and reporting votes. While the goal of private voting has been achieved by some voters, this has often been without meaningful assurance that our votes have been counted as cast. Additionally, many other voters have been disappointed and frustrated because we have not been able to vote privately and independently as we had hoped and as voting-system vendors had promised.

It is now clear that in order to guarantee reliability and security in our elections, it is necessary for the voter to be able to truly verify the accuracy of his or her ballot--the ballot that will actually be counted. The only voting systems that permit truly accessible verification of the paper ballot are ballot marking devices. These non-tabulating devices, either electronic or non-electronic, assist the voter in marking and verifying votes on paper ballots that can either be optically scanned or hand-counted. (Some DRE voting machines that have already been purchased may be adapted to be used as acceptable ballot marking devices, assuming their accessibility can be preserved or improved.)

The technology for inexpensively providing good accessibility to voting systems has been commonly available for more than a decade, and it can and should immediately be required for and applied to all modern voting systems.

This is clearly illustrated by the report Improving Access to Voting: A report on the Technology for Accessible Voting Systems (PDF), by Noel Runyan. Design of new systems must include, from the beginning, accommodations to allow private and independent voting by individuals with a broad range of access needs. These systems must simultaneously ensure secure elections.

We leaders and members of the disability rights community assert that neither accessibility for all voters nor the security of the vote can be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Fortunately, true accessibility and election security can both be achieved; there is no inherent incompatibility between voting system accessibility and security.

We recognize that electronic ballot systems are inappropriate for use, because these systems make it impossible for voters to verify that their votes will be counted as cast. We call upon all disability rights groups, other civil rights groups, election protection groups, and elected officials to recognize the necessity for an immediate ban on any voting system that fails to meet the twin requirements of full accessibility and election security.

Signatories — 41 as of May 3, 2007


Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only:

• Noel Runyan, Voting access technology engineer member of Santa Clara County Voter Access Advisory Committee, and author of "Improving Access to Voting"

• Roger Petersen, member, Santa Clara County Advisory Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Santa Clara County Voter Access Advisory Committee

• Bernice Kandarian, President, Council of Citizens with Low Vision International

• Robert Kerr, ACB Maryland

• Shawn Casey O'Brien, KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, and California Secretary of State's Ad Hoc Touch Screen Task Force member

• Suzanne Erb, Chairperson of the Philadelphia Mayor's Commission on Disabilities

• Mike Keithley, Editor of the Blind Californian

• A. J. Devies, Past President, Handicapped Adults of Volusia County (HAVOC); Charter Member, Daytona Beach Mayor's Alliance for Persons with Disabilities; Disability Consultant and Board Member, Florida Fair Elections Coalition.

• Marta Russell, independent journalist and author

• Judith K. Barnes, Life Member, Council of Citizens With Low Vision; Former President, Silicon Valley Council of the Blind

• George Moore, Accessibility Advocate, Californians for Disability Rights.

• Mike May, President, Sendero Group

• David Andrews

• Ruthanne Shpiner, Pushing Limits Radio 94.1 FM, Northern California ADAPT

• Jean Stewart, Writer

• Mike Godino, President, American Council of the Blind of New York, Systems Advocate, Suffolk Independent Living Organization

• Louis Herrera

• Dawn Wilcox, BSN RN, Past President Silicon Valley Council of the Blind, Board member CCCLV

• Margaret Keith, VP, Monterey Co. Chapter, Californians for Disability Rights

• Adrienne Lauby, Host/Producer, Pushing Limits, disability program on KPFA fm

• Barry Scheur, Scheur & Associates

• Tom Fowle, Rehabilitation Engineer, The Smith-Kettlewell Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center, San Francisco

• Robert Lusson

• Christopher Voelker

• Amy Ruell

• Bob Hachey, President, Bay State Council of the Blind

• Susan Clarke, ENHALE, ENvironmental Health Advocacy LEague.

• Karen Jo Gonzales

• Danica Nicolette O'Brien

• Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, Esq.

• Emily Levy, VelvetRevolution.us; former chair, City of Santa Cruz Accessibility Committee

• Michael P. Gorse, Member, Bay State Council of the Blind

• Christopher Gray, President, Bay Area Digital, LLC.

• Sam C.S. Chen, Ph.D.

• Harriotte Hurie Ranvig

• Paul Parravano, Co-Director, MIT's Office of Government & Community Relations, Office of the President

• Jesus Garcia, Florida Council of the Blind, Chairman of Resolutions

• Paul Edwards

• Charles Krugman, President of Fresno Stonewall Democrats and member of the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee

• Ruthee Goldkorn, Owner, No Barriers Disabled Access Consulting and Advocacy Services, Executive Director, Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant

• Barbara Ruth, author and former member of Advisory Panel, California State Senate Subcommittee on the Rights of the Disabled


If you would like to add your name to the list, please email voting@skyhighway.com with your name as you want it to appear, including any identifying affiliations, if desired.



| EJF Home | Where To Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter |


| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 3 — Direct Recording Electronic Voting |

| Next — Voters Handicapped In Pawtucket County, Rhode Island by Douglas Hadden |

| Back — Low-Carb Leader Will Get My Vote by Dave Barry |


Last updated 6/14/09