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Testimony Regarding Voters with Disabilities and the NYS Help America Vote Act Implementation Plan to Move Towards Accessible Polling Sites and Voting Machines in a Timely Manner
Assembly Taskforce on Elections

April 4, 2003

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to speak today on this issue. Voting is a fundamental right, and many people with disabilities have never been able to cast an independent ballot because of inaccessible polling sites and voting machines. This is a historic moment, as we stand on the brink of providing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities the opportunity to participate fully in the process. I am glad to be part of the Citywide Coalition on Voter Participation, a truly remarkable and diverse collection of committed and focused advocates working towards solutions to the current flaws in the election process in NY.
 
I am Alexander Wood, executive director of the Disabilities Network of NYC, and I am here today speaking on behalf of the 1.6 million people with physical disabilities living in NYC. The Disabilities Network of New York City is a coalition of consumers, advocates and professional organizations representing and working on behalf of people of all ages with motor and sensory disabilities. The Network seeks, through systems advocacy, to promote full participation of people with physical disabilities in the life of the city by strengthening appropriate citywide policies, resources, services and legal protections; assuring reasonable accommodations; and building informed and accurate public perception about people with disabilities.

Language disability issues

Adopt broad definition of disability and express timetable for compliance.

Because HAVA does not define disability, we urge the Council to adopt the definition contained in the NYS Human Rights Law to determine who is covered by the disability rights mandates of HAVA. Further, a specific timeframe should be established by which all polling sites in New York State must be fully accessible—preferably by November 2004
 
Consider findings of recent survey of accessible voting machines

Borough President C. Virginia Fields’ Office & the Center for Independence of the Disabled in NY (CIDNY), organized an accessible voting technology fair in January, 2003, that allowed seven vendors with eight voting systems to show their wares to people with a great variety of disabilities. A survey was conducted by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office & CIDNY, and the results will be available shortly, if not today. These findings should weigh heavily in NY’s choice of an accessible voting system, as this is the only comprehensive analysis of voters with disabilities.

Voting machines must minimize the need for strength, manual dexterity, height, and reaching ability

New voting machines must, under HAVA, be able to accommodate voters with mobility impairments by offering a design that minimizes the need for strength, manual dexterity and coordination, height and reaching ability.

Voting machines must provide full accommodation for blind and visually impaired voters

Voting machines must accommodate blind a visually impaired voters by providing audio readouts and system prompts that offer all the information available to sighted voters and allowing independent navigation of the entire ballot. Audio software offers the only way to achieve this objective, and adds the potential of extending its benefits to new American voters who need alternate language assistance.

Voting machines must provide full access to voters with other disabilities

Voting machines must not only accommodate the needs of people with motor and sensory disabilities, but also those with cognitive, mental, developmental, neurological and multiple disabilities.

Voting machines must maintain privacy and independence

All voting booths must provide the privacy mandated by HAVA, by affording space to close a curtain or privacy screen around a voter, a voter with a mobility device, or a voter with a mobility device plus an assistant of their choice, as allowed under New York law. For accessibility to work, polling places must also be free of bopth interior and exterior barriers and obstructions & be located near accessible public transportation routes and parking.

Language Assistance

Correct on-the-ground deficiencies in providing language assistance at polling sites.

Numerous deficiencies in rendering required language assistance have been revealed in recent elections.

Expand language assistance under HAVA

The languages and counties that are covered by Section 203 are limited. The Assembly should seek ways to expand language assistance for more voters and develop a methodology to determine which language and counties to include.

What constitutes a vote

Statewide, uniform definition of what constitutes a “vote.”

The Assembly should consider and adopt a statewide and uniform definition and standards for what constitutes a vote. We will be providing additional research and guidance on this point shortly. If New York State legislatively adopts clear, uniform standards statewide, the potential for confusion, disputes and problems will be greatly reduced.

Voter Verification

Voters must be able to examine and verify each vote prior to it being cast and counted.

Error rates should be as low as possible

The Assembly should ensure that the machinery chosen to count ballots have the lowest error rates available.
 
Thank you, future participation by voters with disabilities will most likely expand if all these measures are implemented, thus delivering on the responsibility of our political and social system to enfranchise all and cast the broadest net possible inviting and including all citizens.

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