Justice For All

                  Carpe Diem Accessible Vote

Belinda Carlton, Belindagc@aol.com , writes:

Seize the Day -- This problematic election presents tremendous opportunity to bring about accessible voting systems for Americans with Disabilities. 

State lawmakers and election officials around the United States have already begun proposing laws to change voting procedures to reduce the potential for legal challenges.  States are already talking about replacing antiquated voting machines with expensive electronic equipment.

Texas passed legislation in 1999 that states people with disabilities must be provided with the opportunity to cast a secret ballot.  It was a simple and short piece of legislation passed by the 76th Texas Legislature and signed into law by Governor George W. Bush on May 29, 1999.    

H.B. 1053 amended the Texas Election Code to state voting systems acquired after September 1, 1999 must provide a practical and effective means for voters with physical disabilities to cast a secret ballot.  The website to download the legislation www.capitol.state.tx.us. 

To enact the legislation, the Texas Secretary of State established a Task Force that included representation by disability groups and election officials.  I sat on this task force and pushed the limit on definition of physical disability. Through the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities,  which I directed for ten years, I hosted three vendor demonstrations where people with various types of disabilities came and tried out the "accessible" voting machines. This was important because vendors and the Secretary of State felt if they complied with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines that was good enough. Seeing people with severe disabilities attempt to use prototype equipment drove home the need to write the rules to meet the intent of the legislation.  Just complying the the ADAAG would not get the job done.  The ADA guidelines were written for structural access, not electronic voting equipment.  The final rule combines compliance aspects of ADAAG and the Telecommunications Act. 

Although the statute and the rules do not include cognitive disabilities, I think the auditory/visual/tactile methods to vote and the requirement of confirmation of your vote will benefit individuals with cognitive disabilities. 

The rules can be found on the Texas Secretary of State website.  Access at www.sos.state.tx.us , click on Texas Administrative Code, click on TAC Viewer, click on Title I (one), click on Part 4, Click on Subchapter C, Click on Sections 81.55, then 81.56, then 81.57. 

I believe Rule 81.57(a) sets the standard.  "Systems must be accessible to voters with physical disabilities including no vision, low vision, no hearing, low hearing, limited manual dexterity, limited reach, limited strength, no mobility, low mobility, or any combination of the foregoing. . ..by providing voters with physical disabilities with a practical and effective means to cast an independent and secret ballot."

The National Organization on Disability has pushed for the vote of Americans with disabilities to be counted and just released statistics that demonstrate most voting systems are inaccessible for people with disabilities and do not allow many people with disabilities to vote a secret ballot.  So, let's continue the momentum.  Start today to make sure your state's election code and rules require an accessible polling place and the opportunity to cast a secret ballot for all citizens with disabilities. 

According to news, Wisconsin, Washington, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan and Maine are already drafting legislation or laying the groundwork for new election laws.   Carpe Diem! 

If I can assist your efforts do not hesitate to contact me at belindagc@aol.com  or Belinda Carlton at 512/243-2184. 
Fred Fay
Chair, Justice For All

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