E-voting machines mean greater access, independence, and privacy for millions of disabled voters. Some of them have described the experience of using next generation voting machines as a “new freedom” and cherish the “privilege to have that right to privacy for the first time.”
In the past, visually impaired voters have been crowded into booths with three other people: someone to read the options aloud and pull the levers as well as election officials from both major parties as witnesses. New machines, however, can produce an audio recording of the ballot that disable voters listen to with headphones.
Voting machines with cutting edge technology can also be used by people with other disabilities, such as those who can't easily use a pen or pencil. Instead, different interfaces like sip and puff paddles, oversized keyboards, or extra large fonts accommodate specific needs. Also the height of e-voting machines can be adjusted for people in wheelchairs.
Voting and Disability in America
There are more than 30 million disabled Americans of voting age, but without proper accessibility, democratic participation of the disabled community is limited, and its interests are easily overlooked and underrepresented. Obviously specific groups and special interest constituencies cannot exercise their political muscle without a voice, that is, without a vote.
The disabled community has historically experienced disenchantment with the polling process when polling stations fail to offer the accessibility and privacy that other voters take for granted. A good way to understand this feeling would be to examine the sentiments of voters after the 2000 elections, when hanging chads resulted in a distrust of the American political system and an estimated reduction of over one million people in voter turnouts.
The National Federation for the Blind is a huge proponent of e-voting, saying that it is the only option for a secret ballot. In the past, blind voters using the services of a human reader have reported that they find it difficult to ignore voice inflections of readers – whether a friend, a spouse or an elections judge – while making ballot decisions.
Disability rights activists such as those working with the American Association of People with Disabilities through their Disability Vote Project, cite examples of past incidents in which poll workers changed disabled people’s votes, failed to read off all the choices on a longer ballot, or expressed an opinion about a particular vote. Some polling sites, they add, remain inaccessible to people with certain disabilities, in direct violation of the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, which requires that ballot locations be accessible to all voters.
In addition, the Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002, requires all ballot equipment to be accessible by the disabled, and lever machines and punch card technology can no longer be purchased (most are no longer manufactured). Under the Act, polling places must provide the same privacy and independence to all voters, and that requirement has generally been fulfilled by the e-voting machines.
Electronic voting machines being currently manufactured have reached at least their second cycle of production, making them less expensive to produce and further improving accessibility for disabled voters.
"It was an incredibly empowering experience," said one blind voter, adding that it contrasted sharply with the "embarrassing and humiliating" ordeal of voting with a paper ballot.