Elections Canada’s recent efforts to make the voting process more accessible across the country have addressed but not eliminated the challenges that disabled voters often encounter at the polls, observers say. The national electoral body has poured resources into improving accessibility protocols and procedures in the five years since it was taken to task by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. But advocacy groups and observers say disabled voters will likely still encounter some inaccessible polling stations, ballots that cannot be marked independently and a shortfall of election day supports on Oct. 19. James Hicks, national co-ordinator with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said Elections Canada has made accessibility an evident priority in the 18 months since it began consulting with disability organizations across the country.
A federal judge in Baltimore ordered Maryland election officials to adopt an online absentee voting tool in time for this year’s general election, a move designed to make it easier for disabled voters to cast ballots. Opponents of the system — including computer security experts — have warned it could lead to voter fraud or privacy breaches. The tool, developed in house by the State Board of Elections, allows disabled people to receive their ballot over the internet and fill it out on a computer. The completed ballot must be printed and mailed to an elections board. Attorney Jessica Weber, who represents a group of voters as well as the National Federation of the Blind, said during the trial that her clients are currently “being denied meaningful access to voting.” In a 33-page ruling issued Thursday, Judge Richard D. Bennett agreed and ordered the state to adopt the system. “This Court finds that Plaintiffs have been denied meaningful access to the State’s absentee ballot voting program as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act,” he wrote. The ruling applies only to this year’s election.
The National Federation of the Blind has sued Maryland election officials, charging that their April decision not to approve a system that would make it easier for disabled people to cast absentee ballots privately violates federal law. The Baltimore-based federation filed suit this week asking the U.S. District Court to order the State Board of Elections to provide that technology in time for the June 24 primary election. “The right to a secret ballot that can be filled out privately and independently is just as important to people with disabilities as it is for other voters,” said federation spokesman Chris Danielson. The board decided April 24 to overrule its professional staff’s recommendation that it allow the use of ballot-marking technology, an electronic tool that allows a blind person or someone who doesn’t have use of their arms to mark their absentee ballots on their computers before printing them out and sending them in. Special audio systems can help disabled voters who go to the polls, but some blind and other disabled voters say they have had to ask for help in casting an absentee ballot. Board members were swayed by arguments by some computer scientists and ballot security advocates that the system has shortcomings that would open the door to widespread voter fraud. The decision outraged advocates for the disabled because they had worked with the elections board staff for months to help develop the technology.
Secretary of State William Galvin won’t say if he is ordering changes at the city’s 24 polling places on Tuesday to prevent a repeat of the “overall chaos” witnessed by an observer he sent to the Sept. 17 preliminary election. Among them, observer Ramon Trinidad reported seeing city poll workers pencil in the names of unregistered people to the voting list and then hand them ballots. Trinidad also said poll workers examined completed ballots and allowed candidates to walk around freely inside polling places. He said poll workers were sometimes hard to find while campaign workers were prolific, polling places were organized in a way that confused voters, machines that assist disabled voters were shut down and documents describing voters’ rights were not posted as required. “I believe that when a poll worker looks at a voter’s ballot for any reason, the voter loses trust in their expectation of the right to a secret ballot,” Trinidad said in his report, describing how poll workers took ballots from voters and examined them if scanners spit them back. “It can be considered a type of voter intimidation.”
Virginia: Advocates: Court-imposed debt an obstacle for some felons seeking to restore voting rights | Washington Post
Advocates for restoring the voting rights of Virginia felons are praising the steps Gov. Bob McDonnell has taken to streamline the process but say a major impediment remains: insurmountable fines and court costs. McDonnell’s administration has restored the voting rights of more than 6,800 Virginians, more than any previous administration. In July, he announced a new procedure that eliminated a two-year waiting period and made restoration almost automatic for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and probation and paid all court-imposed debt. But for disenfranchised Virginians like Clyde Mowyer of Colonial Heights, the financial hurdle means his chance of regaining the right to vote is no greater now than it was before McDonnell reformed the process. Mowyer, who was convicted of credit card theft and multiple driving violations, estimated that he owes nearly $20,000 to multiple jurisdictions — a debt he will never be able to repay on his monthly disability income of $639. “After paying for utilities and a place to stay, I have $59 left to live on,” Mowyer said. “There’s no possible way I can pay anything. I appreciate what the governor did in trying to make an automatic restoration process, but it doesn’t help people that are disabled.”
Some controversial changes may soon be coming to Florida elections. A provision in a new wide-ranging elections bill proposed by Republican State Senator Jack Latvala would limit the ability of outside volunteers to help in elections if they did not know the voter prior to the election. The law would also limit the number of people volunteers could help to 10 voters per election. Voting rights groups blasted the Florida Republican’s rewrite of the bill in a conference call with reporters on Monday, saying that the bill would make it harder for some minority, elderly, and disabled voters to cast their ballots. They argued that people who don’t speak English, or have trouble voting for any other reason wouldn’t be able to seek help from trained volunteers at the polls unless they already know them. Executive director of Florida New Majority advocate group Gihan Perera said that the bill would not help reform elections but instead create new barriers to voting for the Latino community and other segments of the population.
A bill guaranteeing access for the disabled at polling places has been delivered to the governor’s desk for signing. The legislation requires all voting locations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and exempts disabled persons from time limits at voting machines. In addition, disabled voters are guaranteed assistance in casting their ballots, among other provisions. The bipartisan measure passed with nearly unanimous support in the Ohio House and Senate. Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, jointly sponsored Senate Bill 10 with Republican Sen. Bill Coley of Liberty Township. Lawmakers have touted the legislation as an example of welcome cooperation between political parties.
On Nov. 6, there’s a very real possibility that many Americans with disabilities will not be able to vote because their local polling places will be inaccessible. Advocates for the disabled are worried that local governments aren’t doing enough to prepare — as are some of the small businesses that outfit polling sites with ramps. “We’ve gotten quite a few inquiries from major municipalities, but they’re not following through to actual sales,” said Dave Henderson, sales manager at EZ-Access in Algona, Wash.