voters with disabilities

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Wisconsin: Voters with disabilities face barriers at the polls | Rory Linnane/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A sign on a door reading “handicapped entrance, knock hard.” A set of stairs leading to voting booths with no elevator. A poll worker demanding voters state their names and addresses aloud, no matter their ability to speak. These are just a few of the barriers voters with disabilities have faced at Wisconsin polling places in recent elections. Advocates say the issues are preventing people with disabilities from voting with the same ease and privacy as others — or preventing their votes entirely. The last state report on accessibility barriers, in 2015, found most audited polling places had problems. State law requires such a report every two years, but state officials failed to complete one in 2017 and they’re late on the 2019 report.  The 2015 report found about 4,000 accessibility problems at 808 polling places. It said about 1,650 problems were severe enough to likely prevent some voters from entering and casting a private and independent ballot.  Federal law requires voting facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Full Article: Wisconsin voters with disabilities face barriers at the polls.

North Carolina: Election security debate affects voters with disabilities | Jordan Wilkie/Raleigh News & Observer

When Damon Circosta, chairman of the state board of elections, voted in August to certify an elections equipment system opposed by local election security advocates, he said conversations with disability rights groups helped him make that decision. Circosta, whose vote broke a 2-2 tie, was in his first meeting as board chair. Carolina Public Press first asked Circosta on Aug. 23, the date of the meeting, about which disability rights groups he had talked with in making up his mind. A response, emailed by Board of Elections public information officer Pat Gannon, did not answer CPP’s question. Neither did records requests for communications between Circosta and any disability rights group or advocate. The records showed that one person, Lawrence Carter, president of the Raleigh/Wake Council of the Blind, submitted a written statement and made public comment, but his views were in opposition to the voting system Circosta voted to certify.

Full Article: Election security debate affects voters with disabilities | Raleigh News & Observer.

Maryland: National Federation of the Blind sues State Board of Elections over ballot privacy | Danielle E. Gaines/WTOP

A group of Maryland voters is suing the state of Maryland, alleging that state policies require them to cast a segregated ballot. The National Federation of the Blind, its Maryland affiliate and three blind registered Maryland voters — Marie Cobb, Ruth Sager and Joel Zimba — filed a lawsuit against the Maryland State Board of Elections in U.S. District Court on Thursday. The lawsuit alleges the elections board is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws by maintaining a segregated system of voting that denies blind voters their right to a secret ballot and an equal voting experience. At issue are the state’s policies for using ExpressVote ballot-marking devices – which can allow voters who are blind or have motor disabilities to use headphones, magnification, touchscreens and other features to independently cast ballots. The machines do not record votes directly but mark a paper ballot that is printed and scanned. ExpressVote paper ballots are a different size and shape than paper ballots filled out by hand, making those votes cast by Marylanders with disabilities immediately identifiable, advocates say.

Full Article: National Federation of the Blind sues Md. State Board of Elections over ballot privacy | WTOP.

National: Disabled voters left behind in push to amp up 2020 security, advocates say | Jordan Wilkie/The Guardian

Russian attacks on American democracy in 2016, carried out over the internet, have triggered a national debate over the use of technology in the United States’ upcoming 2020 elections. But some of the best ways to beef up the security of the voting process and fight off future cyber-attacks could have an unintended consequence: limiting access to the vote for people with disabilities. Voting on hand-marked paper ballots – which by definition can’t be hacked – combined with robust audits of how the elections were carried out and how the votes were counted is widely seen as the most secure way to run an election. Cybersecurity experts want hand-marked paper ballot systems, but disability rights advocates want voting machines to be used for all voters, as they are best for disabled access. The two groups have been butting heads over this since the Help America Vote Act (Hava) of 2002, which gave states $3.9bn to buy new voting technology and required every polling place have at least one accessible voting machine. Rather than operate parallel systems – and since it was on the federal dime – many county and state governments decided to purchase voting machines to be used by all voters – something now seen as a security weakness.

Full Article: Disabled voters left behind in push to amp up 2020 security, advocates say | US news | The Guardian.

Editorials: New Pennsylvania voting security measures could disenfranchise voters with disabilities | Imani Barbarin and Gabe Labella/Philadelphia Inquirer

paImagine getting up early on election day having done your homework on the issues, educated yourself on candidates’ positions, and chosen whom to vote for, only to find poll workers who do not know how to turn on, set up, or assist you in using the voting machine. That is exactly the type of story we at Disability Rights Pennsylvania heard, along with a host of others, during the last presidential election in 2016 when we ran a hotline for disabled voters. During the 2016 election, less than 20 percent of polling places were accessible to people with disabilities. Some voting systems rarely had instructions included, others lacked tactile buttons for people with low vision, and for some systems, the voters could not verify that the ballot reflected their choices. For these reasons, voter turnout for people with disabilities remains under 50 percent. According to the American Association of People With Disabilities, 16 million of the eligible 35 million voters with disabilities cast a ballot in the 2016 election. With election security on the minds of legislators, there is fear that changes to polling technology will only further disenfranchise citizens with disabilities in the coming election. Pennsylvania Bills S.B. 411-419 have been introduced in the House and Senate to update and reform the election system. This comes as counties and the disabled across the state test new voting systems that create a paper trail through different formats.

Full Article: New voting security measures could disenfranchise voters with disabilities | Opinion.

National: Thousands With Disabilities Have Lost the Right to Vote | WhoWhatWhy

Though an estimated 113 million US citizens got to vote in the midterms, thousands more were left out — unable to vote or even register because of laws that consider them mentally incapable of doing so. These state laws affect the thousands of adults in the US under guardianship — people who, because of a disability, have been determined legally to be incapable of performing necessary daily tasks for themselves, and therefore are in need of a guardian to help them. The status of their right to vote — much as for convicted felons — is determined by the state they live in. However, unlike the widely publicized disenfranchisement of felons, many people are unaware of the problems facing those under guardianship. “This is an issue that, for the large part, I think, flies under the radar if you are not working on it,” Michelle Bishop, voting rights specialist for the National Disability Rights network, told WhoWhatWhy. “It’s not being talked about. The average American doesn’t know this type of thing happens, that you can have your right to vote denied based on having a disability.”

Full Article: Thousands With Disabilities Have Lost the Right to Vote - WhoWhatWhy.

National: Majority of disabled voters in U.S. faced challenges in casting ballots in ’16 | WHYY

When it comes to expanding voter access, most often the conversation centers around allowing early voting or establishing automatic voting registration. But a forum at the University of Delaware Tuesday focused instead on making voting more accessible for those with disabilities. “We still have this cultural lag where we don’t really expect people with disabilities to be voters,” said Rabia Belt, historian and assistant professor at Stanford Law School. “It’s still quite difficult for people to be able to access polling places, people to receive the accommodations that are legally mandated.” The forum organized by UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies looked at how people with disabilities are underrepresented at the polls.

Full Article: Majority of disabled voters in U.S. faced challenges in casting ballots in '16 : Politics & Policy : WHYY.

Kansas: ‘There’s no road map for him’: Deaf candidate for Kansas House aiming to make history | The Kansas City Star

As the Olathe candidate knocked on a voter’s door, a dog inside barked and the sound of footsteps approached. The candidate didn’t look up. He’s deaf. The door opened. The homeowner started to say hello but trailed off as the candidate gestured to his ear and smiled. He pointed to his shirt — “Haulmark for Kansas” — and held up a pamphlet advertising his campaign. The homeowner nodded, tilting his head slightly, and looked on. There have been deaf city counselors and a deaf mayor, but Chris Haulmark, if elected, would be the first deaf legislator — at the state or national level — in U.S. history, according to the National Association of the Deaf. “It will be the very first time in America’s history that finally a deaf person has been invited to the table to sit with the other politicians, legislators and lawmakers and be able to make decisions together,” Haulmark, 39, said recently at an event commemorating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Full Article: Chris Haulmark campaigns to be first deaf lawmaker in U.S. | The Kansas City Star.

Georgia: Randolph County Can’t Back Up Its Excuse For Plan To Disenfranchise Black Voters | HuffPost

Officials in a majority-black Georgia county accused of trying to close almost all polling places to make it harder for black people to vote claimed last week that the locations couldn’t be used because of accessibility problems for people with disabilities. But Randolph County doesn’t have a single recent report, analysis or document supporting the idea that it needs to close seven of its nine polling places due to accessibility issues, a lawyer for the county told HuffPost on Tuesday in response to a public records request. HuffPost requested records from the county dating back to March 1, 2018. The county hired Michael Malone, an outside elections consultant now pushing for the closures, on April 2. But according to the county, it has no written record of evidence to back his recommendations. “There is no document, report or analysis studying the handicap accessibility of polling places in Randolph County and the cost of fixing them within the time frame specified in your open records request,” Hayden Hooks, an attorney with the firm Perry & Walters, which represents Randolph County, wrote in an email. The county has no record of such a document in the past year, Hooks added.

Full Article: Georgia County Can't Back Up Its Excuse For Plan To Disenfranchise Black Voters | HuffPost.

Michigan: Blind voters may struggle with new voting machines | Associated Press

New voting machines in Michigan may cause problems for residents with a visual disability. Tuesday’s primary election will feature $40 million of new equipment that replaced aging voting machines, The Detroit Free Press reported. For more than a decade, blind voters in the state have used AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals, which have a touch screen and a keypad with Braille. A 2015 survey estimates that about 221,000 Michigan residents have a visual disability. Most Michigan counties will now use Dominion Voting Systems, which don’t have keypads with Braille and feature verbal instructions that can be difficult for a blind person to follow. Some counties selected new equipment from Election Systems & Software or Hart InterCivic. About 100 blind people helped test out the three systems in 2016, said Fred Wurtzel, who is blind and is second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan. He said most testers preferred the Election Systems equipment, while many said the Hart InterCivic were the most difficult to use.

Full Article: Blind Michigan voters may struggle with new voting machines - Fairfield Citizen.

Maldives: Election body makes second voting U-turn | Maldives Independent

The Maldives elections body will allow voters with disabilities to choose their own helpers for polling day, its second U-turn and major misstep in four days. Updated electoral regulations published Sunday say voters who require assistance will be allowed to choose a helper of their choice. The helper can assist the voter with the permission of the chief electoral official at the ballot centre. The Elections Commission initially said only electoral officials would help voters who were unable to tick the ballot paper on their own. The original announcement was met with anger from political parties and a threat of legal action by a former attorney general.

Full Article: Maldives election body makes second voting U-turn – Maldives Independent.

Zimbabwe: Visually Impaired Man Takes Electoral Commission To Court Over Voting Rights | ZimEye

A visually impaired man has taken the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to the High Court seeking an order to compel the elections body to print and avail ballot papers in Braille or the template ballot as a way of ensuring that visually impaired enjoy their right to a secret vote. Abraham Mateta, who is visually impared and is a registered voter wants ZEC to put in place administrative measures to enable people in his condition to vote by secret ballot in the coming 2018 harmonised election. Mateta also proposed that ZEC must provide tactile voting devices to all the visually impaired people who want to vote secretly arguing that those who wish to be assisted in voting,  should select their own assistants and cast the vote without the involvement of a presiding officer or any other third party.

Full Article: Visually Impared Man Takes ZEC To Court Over Voting Rights | ZimEye.

Ireland: Tactile ballot templates to facilitate visually impaired in voting | The Irish Times

People who are blind or visually impaired will be able to vote in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment without assistance for the first time. The use of new tactile ballot templates at polling stations means thousands of people with limited or no sight will be able to cast their votes in secret in the May referendum. The introduction of these new ballot papers follows the High Court case of Robbie Sinnott who initiated proceedings in 2016 against the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the State.

Full Article: Tactile ballot templates to facilitate visually impaired in voting.

Kansas: Mail Ballot Bill Clarifying Disabled Voters’ Rights Moves Through Kansas Legislature | KMUW

Sedgwick County leaders are optimistic a law will be passed this year that makes sure voters with disabilities can vote by mail.  County commissioners have backed two bills in the Kansas Legislature clarifying that voters who can’t sign their mail-in ballot envelopes will still have their votes counted. State law already allows voters to receive assistance filling out their mail-in ballots if needed. One of those bills — sponsored by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita — passed unanimously through the Senate last week. Sedgwick County Commission Chairman David Dennis says he thinks there’s a good chance it’ll pass through the House just as easily.

Full Article: Mail Ballot Bill Clarifying Disabled Voters' Rights Moves Through Kansas Legislature | KMUW.

Texas: State acts to ensure disabled Texans are able to vote | San Antonio Express-News

The state will “effective immediately” begin making it easier for disabled Texans who receive job training to register to vote. The action comes after a disability rights group threatened to sue last week if changes weren’t made. The Texas Workforce Commission said in a letter they will begin the process of implementing voter registration services to disabled Texans served by its Vocational Rehabilitation Program. “Please note that the State of Texas … is committed to making sure that all eligible Texans have the opportunity to register to vote, including Texans with disabilities,” the TWC and the Texas Secretary of State office wrote in a joint letter this week.

Full Article: State acts to ensure disabled Texans are able to vote - San Antonio Express-News.

Kansas: Senate votes to fix elections law after Sedgwick County throws out votes | Topeka Capital-Journal

The Kansas Senate on Thursday moved to fix a state elections law that Sedgwick County officials cited last year when they threw out 23 disabled Kansans’ votes in a local election. Senators voted 39-0 in favor of Senate Bill 264, which clarifies disabled and elderly voters who may need assistance filling out their mail-in ballot do not have to sign it. The bill still faces another vote to pass the Senate. Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, brought the issue after the Sedgwick County Board of Canvassers decided to throw out 23 advance ballots because disabled voters had not signed them. Current law says that voters are required to sign their advance ballots.

Full Article: Kansas Senate votes to fix elections law after Sedgwick County throws out votes.

Texas: Disability rights group threatens to sue Texas over voter registration | Houston Chronicle

Lawyers for a disability rights group are threatening to sue the state for failing to provide voter registration services to Texans with disabilities who obtain job training from state agencies, a violation of federal law, according to a letter sent Monday afternoon. The letter, from lawyers with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and the Texas Civil Rights Project, states that under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, Texas is mandated to make it easier for disabled people to register to vote if they receive job training from state agencies.

Full Article: Disability rights group threatens to sue Texas over voter registration - Houston Chronicle.

Australia: Vision-impaired voters to have access to electronic voting at state election | In Daily

The State Government has approved the use of VoteAssist, a computer-based application developed by the Western Australian Electoral Commission for its 2013 state election. The software uses specially designed computer terminals, headphones and a numeric keypad to provide audio prompts to guide the elector through the voting process. The Government passed legislation last year to introduce electronically assisted voting technology. The legislation was prompted by recommendations made by the Electoral Commission following the 2010 and 2014 state elections, calling for a trial of alternative voting for some electors.

Full Article: Vision-impaired voters to have access to electronic voting at state election.

Kansas: Bills Clarify That, Yes, Kansans Who Have Trouble Signing Their Names Can Vote By Mail | KCUR

Last November, nearly two dozen mail-in ballots cast by disabled voters got tossed away in Sedgwick County. Some state officials say local election authorities misread a technicality in state law, and the votes could have been counted. Now Kansas lawmakers are pushing through bills aimed at wiping out any confusion — and making sure that people who have trouble filling out their own ballots can still vote by mail. One bill aiming to clarify the law has passed the Senate. Another measure drew no opposition in a hearing in the House on Monday.

Full Article: Bills Clarify That, Yes, Kansans Who Have Trouble Signing Their Names Can Vote By Mail | KCUR.

National: How Voters With Disabilities Are Blocked From the Ballot Box | Stateline

For decades, Kathy Hoell has struggled to vote. Poll workers have told the 62-year-old Nebraskan, who uses a powered wheelchair and has a brain injury that causes her to speak in a strained and raspy voice, that she isn’t smart enough to cast a ballot. They have led her to stairs she couldn’t climb and prevented her from using an accessible voting machine because they hadn’t powered it on. “Basically,” Hoell said, “I’m a second-class citizen.” The barriers Hoell has faced are not unusual for the more than 35 million voting-age Americans with disabilities. As many jurisdictions return to paper ballots to address cybersecurity concerns — nearly half of Americans now vote on paper ballots, counted digitally or by optical scanners — such obstacles are likely to get worse.

Full Article: How Voters With Disabilities Are Blocked From the Ballot Box.