Landmark federal legislation, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), was passed on the heels of the voting snafus of the 2000 election with the goal of reforming and improving elections across the country. Part of this improvement includes an expectation that voting equipment will be accessible and will allow voters with disabilities to cast their ballots independently and secretly. To reach this vision, HAVA requires one accessible voting machine at each polling place by January 1 of 2006.
Volume X Number 2, December 2004
Introducing a special issue of Information Technology and Disabilities, Casting Your Ballot: Access to Voting For People With Disabilities.
Editor: Steve Noble
Policy Analyst, Kentucky Assistive Technology Service Network
In recognition of the recent 2004 U.S. presidential election, Information Technology and Disabilities is pleased to present this special issue on accessible voting for people with disabilities. It is without question that the ability to cast a vote is central to the concept of democratic rule, and that people with disabilities must have equitable access to ensure that ability to vote is not diminished. This collection of articles are part of our special theme to address the technological and public policy aspects of this important civil right.
On behalf of EASI, Equal Access to Software and Information, I would like to say a special "thank you" to all the authors who contributed to this issue.
Special Theme Articles
Using Extended and Enhanced Usability (EEU) To Provide Access To Mainstream Electronic Voting Machines
In addressing the voting rights of people with disabilities the approach to date has often been to provide at least one accessible machine per voting place or district. However, work with elderly individuals who need to have accommodations to allow them to vote confidently and accurately, suggests that this might not be an effective approach. First, these individuals may not recognize that they have a problem that needs addressing. They may feel they don't see quite as well - but they may have gradually lost vision and not realize the extent. If they do recognize that they have a problem they often do not wish to use voting booths that are for 'disabled people' in front of their friends (who are often among the poll workers). To address this problem, a series of prototypes and usability studies were used to explore methods of creating electronic voting machines that would work well for all voters. By extending and enhancing the usability of mainstream voting machines it may be possible to address the needs of as much as 99% of voters. The one percent of individuals with severe disabilities can then use a single accessory that can allow them to vote independently.
Disability and Voting: An Analysis of The Implementation of The Help America Vote Act of 2002 in Arizona
There is no greater civic duty than to vote. Our representative form of government depends on it. The history of the United States is marked by each minority group understanding they may not be considered equal before the law or heard by their elected officials if they do not have the right to vote. For voters with disabilities it is no different. This article will provide a legal analysis of previous laws assisting persons with disabilities with the right to vote, and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the efforts aimed at its implementation in Arizona.
Just six weeks before voters went to the polls, the Government of the Republic of Ireland was forced to withdraw its plans for the country's first all-electronic elections, and revert to the traditional paper-based ballot, at a substantial cost to taxpayers. The proposed system had been criticized on many counts by commentators, politicians, and the independent Commission on Electronic Voting. Accessibility was never a requirement in the procurement of the system, which turned out to be inaccessible to many users with disabilities; the right to accessibility is not enshrined in Irish law, and disability rights in general are not protected. This is in contrast with the situation in the United Kingdom, where all e-voting initiatives must ensure compliance with legislation. This paper examines how, by failing to take into account the needs of a substantial portion of the electorate, the Irish Government's e-voting implementation is no more democratic than the traditional paper-based method, and may even pose additional barriers to full participation in the democratic process.
The Florida election fiasco of 2000 has spawned thousands of articles on what is wrong with our voting systems, hundreds of ideas on how to fix the problems, and one radically different voting system that is arguably more secure and less expensive than any other system in existence. The system described here is primarily software, and runs on ordinary PCs as old, small and slow as a 20 MHz 386 with 4 Mb of memory. Such computers are free. Security is obtained not by secrecy, but by openness; everything is public knowledge except how any individual votes. Fully functional software is downloadable from the web.
One of the stated goals of the Help America Vote Act ("HAVA") was to ensure the accessibility of the entire electoral process for voters with disabilities. Making elections accessible to voters with disabilities requires two primary changes. Voters must be able to actually cast their vote on the voting system - HAVA is clear on this point - one accessible voting machine is required at each polling place by January 1, 2006. But in order to use these machines, voters must be able to physically get into the polling place so that they can vote (or at minimum have the ballot brought out to them). This article examines HAVA's success to date on this less studied area - physical access to the polling place.
Abstract: Nearly one-third of American voters - over 50 million people - live in districts that will use electronic voting (e-voting) terminals to elect the next president. In contrast, less than half that number cast an electronic ballot in 2000. This huge increase in e-voting has been embraced by the disability rights community, as these systems could make it possible for many disabled Americans to cast their ballots in secret, without the assistance of another person. This article examines the dual issues of accessibility and auditability, and sets forth the premise that accessible elections with verifiable results are not an impossibility. In fact, currently available technology can accomplish both objectives.
Whereas most citizens have the option of voting secretly and independently, and in a polling place, people with disabilities often do not. This Article tells the story of how this situation came to pass, and discusses how two federal civil rights statutes have impacted the voting rights of people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are the two main statutes protecting people with disabilities from discrimination in all areas of life. This Article suggests that while these statutes have eliminated discrimination against and improved the lives of people with disabilities, they have had a limited effect on the real issues facing people with disabilities in voting. This Article concludes, however, that the future may be brighter than the past. There are new court decisions strengthening the viability of voting rights claims, and indicating that courts may be revisiting earlier interpretations of the ADA and Rehab Acts.
This paper reports on a collaborative project between a university and technology corporation that explored computer software usability and accessibility with older adults and individuals who have disabilities, some of whom use assistive technology. The project history and overall goals are described. In addition, the methods and results from usability/accessibility studies involving individuals with visual impairments, people with mobility impairments, and older adults are presented. The implications of these findings are discussed relative to the notion that in order for information technology products to be considered "usable" (i.e., efficient and easy to learn and use), they should be universally designed to meet a wide range of user needs, with or without the use of assistive technology. Suggestions for future research, as well as for promoting the consideration of the needs of consumers with disabilities during product design, development, and usability testing are also discussed.
This article proposes the use of force feedback devices in the planning and implementation of assistive user interfaces, which would help blind users perform simple 2D interaction tasks. By exploring the sense of touch, such devices can be used to improve the efficiency of communication between the user and the interface. This work also investigates the use of distance transforms as a powerful mechanism to support many 2D interaction tasks.