States may soon have another option for accessible ballots as an HTML ballot provider for 36 counties in Oregon considers service in new states. Five Cedars Group, which creates downloadable HTML ballots for the blind and disabled, is undergoing certification in California and also considering expansion to Ohio, both of which have faced voting discrimination lawsuits related to accessibility. The move marks a pattern of states looking toward new technological capabilities to address compliance issues with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a law passed following the 2000 presidential election that ensures all voters have the ability to cast secret ballots privately and independently.
Five Cedars Group’s founder and President John Schmitt said his company hopes to address the needs of San Mateo County in California following California Council of the Blind’s 2015 lawsuit against the county for discriminatory exclusion by not providing alternatives to vote-by-mail paper ballots.
“Once we get certified in California, that’s like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” Schmitt said. “Other states will be interested … I’m pretty confident that we have a solution for San Mateo County, anyway.”
The group’s ballots use definition files from counties across Oregon to create downloadable HTML ballots that work with multiple screen readers including Job Access With Speech (JAWS). Blind and vision-impaired voters can navigate the ballot using the tab and spacebar keys, receive instructions audibly using screen readers, and submit names for write-in candidates.