Technology opens new ways for persons with disabilities to vote
Americas, July 30 2012
TROY: The Image Cast Ballot Marking Device works like the voting machine of the future. It allows users to cast votes on a computer screen, marking each box with a clean, digital black X. The device’s controller makes voting like playing a video game: arrow buttons are used to navigate the screen and a big red X button is used to select a candidate.
If the sound is on, a female voice announces that a ballot is being printed to be scanned by the machine.
While the Image Cast comes off as futuristic, it has been engineered for use on Election Day 2012 by voters with a wide range of disabilities — if they know it is available.
That was the message at Our Vote Matters, a benefit and information session for the Disability Vote Project of Rensselaer County, which was held in Troy on Saturday afternoon. The event centered on awareness of not only the machines but on opportunities for voters with disabilities, too.
“When I would first go out, I would go into the polling place and the machine would be over in the corner, covered up,” said Shameka Andrews, Self Advocacy Association of New York State co-director of policy.
“Why is it over there covered up?” she wondered to herself. “If people don’t know it’s there, how can they ask to use it?”
Andrews, who uses a wheelchair, was among the roughly 30 people who attended the event, which offered demonstrations of one of Rensselaer County’s two Image Cast machines and a presentation for advocacy leaders and politicians to drum up support for the cause.
While Capital Region counties combined own hundreds of ballot marking devices designed for voter with disabilities use, advocates found they were seldom used last year. No voters used any of the 147 machines out of 190 deployed on primary day in Albany County, according to information compiled by Voting Access Solutions, an outreach, advocacy and awareness group in Troy. In Rensselear County 33 of 90 machines were deployed, but none were used. Schenectady County fared better: three voters used the 58 machines deployed from the 75 the county owns.
However, the data compiled is not determinate of the number of eligible voters with disabilities, said Denise Figueroa, executive director of the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, which hosted the event. While many are eligible, many polling place employees cannot provide proper education about the machines, or the voters are simply unaware that they are there, she said. Past voting practices may have discouraged voting as well.
Andrews said she used to vote absentee when she lived in Latham because the machines were in the basement of the polling place. She learned that the absentee votes are not counted until after the vote, which she said made her feel like she wasn’t even part of it.
But the machines, and awareness about them, could help.
“In the past in New York, you had to bring a Republican and a Democrat (into the voting booth) to help you. … There’s nothing private about it,” Figueroa said. “This provides equal access.”