Accessible Voting

Posted April 19, 2016 at 5:45 am by

- This is the fourth in a series of arti­cles about elec­tions in Wash­ing­ton State by San Juan Coun­ty Audi­tor F. Milene Hen­ley. The Coun­ty Audi­tor admin­is­ters elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion in the County.

Milene Henley - Contributed photo

Milene Hen­ley — Con­tributed photo

Vot­ing is for every­one. That may seem obvi­ous, but if you’re blind, or have mobil­i­ty or men­tal com­pe­ten­cy issues, it may not be so obvi­ous. Both the State Elec­tions Divi­sion of the Sec­re­tary of State’s Office and the Coun­ty Elec­tions Office play a part in ensur­ing access to vot­ing for all eli­gi­ble voters.

San Juan Coun­ty has some unique chal­lenges for res­i­dents with dis­abil­i­ties. We rank among the low­est coun­ties in report­ed inci­dence of dis­abil­i­ties in the state (accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Com­mu­ni­ty Sur­vey 2010), pos­si­bly because of our lim­it­ed access to med­ical and care facil­i­ties.   But for the dis­abled who do live here, access can be a spe­cial prob­lem, because of coun­try roads, poor broad­band, and lim­it­ed services.

Elec­tions staff do what we can to help. Since 2006, coun­ties have been required to have Dis­abil­i­ty Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tees to devel­op plans to improve access to elec­tions for vot­ers with dis­abil­i­ties. Dis­abil­i­ty Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tees are com­prised of local vot­ers with dis­abil­i­ties and pro­fes­sion­als who work with the dis­abled. They meet at least once a year to review their county’s acces­si­bil­i­ty plan and to dis­cuss ways to assist the dis­abled not only with elec­tions, but also with issues in the com­mu­ni­ty. Our elec­tions office is always look­ing for new mem­bers for our committee.

San Juan Coun­ty, as all coun­ties in Wash­ing­ton, also owns an Acces­si­ble Vot­ing Unit (AVU). This com­put­er­ized vot­ing “booth,” locat­ed in the elec­tions office in Fri­day Har­bor, allows vot­ers to vote in a vari­ety of assis­tive ways. The visu­al­ly impaired can lis­ten to the entire bal­lot, which has been read and record­ed by elec­tions staff for this pur­pose. Mobil­i­ty-impaired vot­ers can mark their bal­lots using “sip and puff” and select wheel tech­nolo­gies. The booth is wheel­chair acces­si­ble and includes pri­va­cy screen­ing to main­tain secre­cy. It can be tak­en to curb­side for vot­ers unable to get out of their cars.

Despite all that tech­nol­o­gy, the AVU hasn’t been used in years, an obser­va­tion which is con­sis­tent with what we hear from our Dis­abil­i­ty Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee: that most dis­abled peo­ple pre­fer to vote at home, with the assis­tance, if need­ed, of fam­i­ly or friends, rather than to come into the office. So we do what we can to make it easy for peo­ple to vote from home.

In fact, Vote-by-mail (VBM) is itself an assis­tance to mobil­i­ty-impaired vot­ers, as it removes the need to get to a vot­ing site. The Sec­re­tary of State also offers a vari­ety of online tools to ensure access, includ­ing acces­si­ble for­mats of the state vot­ers’ pam­phlet. In a recent review, the Sec­re­tary dis­cov­ered that the online MyVote and MyBal­lot sys­tems were not cur­rent with the most mod­ern options for access. State Elec­tions staff worked with a tech­ni­cal team to bring those sys­tems into com­pli­ance with cur­rent stan­dards for work­ing with assis­tive devices, includ­ing mobile tech­nolo­gies, used by dis­abled and visu­al­ly-impaired vot­ers. That solu­tion is now online and ready for use in the Pres­i­den­tial Pri­ma­ry. Bal­lots can also be marked online. (Bal­lots marked online still have to be print­ed and sub­mit­ted with a signed declaration.)

There are, of course, dai­ly ways in which we assist vot­ers in less tech­no­log­i­cal ways. When an elder­ly vot­er was recent­ly dri­ven to the elec­tions office by a care­tak­er, staff went out to the car to assist with her vot­er reg­is­tra­tion. That’s not doing any­thing spe­cial, of course; that’s just neigh­bor help­ing neigh­bor. If there’s a way we can help you to vote, please let us know.

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Categories: Government

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