For many years, the voting integrity community has grappled with the question of how to accommodate voters with disabilities without making elections less secure. There might finally be a solution on the horizon. One-sixth of the American electorate — over 35 million eligible voters — is disabled. For many of them, simple tasks that many of us take for granted — say, putting pen to paper — is, at best, terribly inconvenient, and, at worst, impossible. This is why the disabled prefer direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs), which advertise handicap-friendly features like touchscreens and audio-enabled ballots. But these machines often do not leave a paper trail, and are therefore considered less reliable by the voting-integrity community. This debate has created a rift among the advocates, forcing each side to think long and hard about how exactly to define a “fair election.” For many advocates, auditability — the degree to which an election outcome can be verified (audited) independent of the original vote-tabulating system — is the most important standard. According to this point of view, the only way to assure voters that elections have not been compromised (by incidental code hiccups or intentional tampering) is to create total system transparency — which means physical ballots and the paper trails they make possible. This is considered the ultimate safeguard against election tampering.
… Pam Smith, President of the Verified Voting Foundation, thinks we can have it all, telling WhoWhatWhy the time has finally come to “speak about accessibility and auditability in the same breath.” Her hope rests in a prototype being developed by Los Angeles County, which Smith calls “as accessible a system as you will find, paper or not.” Where other systems before it have failed, Smith says this system succeeds on the merits of an integrative design process in which “stakeholders from all communities carefully addressed all the issues” and provided valuable feedback.
Beyond visual impairments already covered by BDMs, this prototype also accommodates dexterity deficiencies by holding voters’ ballots in place while they inspect their choices. When they are satisfied with their choices, the system automatically retrieves the paper and places it in the ballot box — which eliminates the need for assistance by poll workers and thereby preserves voter anonymity.
Smith recalls one design team worker even went so far to run his motorized wheelchair into the device, full force, to test its durability and stability. “It didn’t budge an inch,” she says.