White Paper: Accessible Absentee/Vote By Mail
Background: Absentee/Vote by Mail is the fastest growing method of voting in the United States. However, unlike polling place voting, many States still do not offer an accessible alternative to absentee/vote by mail. In the last few years and after multiple successful lawsuits, twelve states now offer solutions that provide equal access to mail balloting for voters with disabilities. The successful litigants argued that absent an accessible alternative, current absentee and mail voting options violate the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
State implementations: Latest states offering accessible absentee vote by mail ballot.
Ohio: The Secretary of State of Ohio issued a directive requiring each county in the State to provide an accessible absentee solution for voters with disabilities.
California: Following a successful lawsuit, California requires each county to offer an accessible vote by mail ballot.
Maryland: Following a successful lawsuit, Maryland requires each county to offer an accessible vote by mail ballot.
Washington: As part of the State’s UOCAVA online ballot system, the State is implementing a statewide accessible vote by mail system.
Vermont: Instituted a statewide accessible absentee solution in 2018.
Florida: Florida requires each County to offer an accessible mail option for any voter with disabilities requesting an accessible mail ballot, upon approval of a certified system.
Unequal access to absentee mail voting: Most voters with disabilities are eligible to vote an absentee mail ballot. However, many of these absentee mail voters must disclose their voting selections to a person assisting them to vote a paper absentee or mail ballot. Voters with disabilities are the only group of eligible absentee mail voters that must go to a polling location if they wish to vote independently. Non-disabled voters can vote independently from home, whereas voters with disabilities often cannot. By definition, this is unequal access to the ballot.
Legal Requirements: The ADA guarantees equal access for qualified individuals to the benefits of the services, programs and activities of public entities. When providing an aid, benefit, or service, a public entity shall not aid or perpetuate discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability. Further, A public entity must make reasonable modifications in policies/procedures to avoid discrimination unless the public entity can demonstrate making modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of service/activity.
Counties, election offices and the Secretary State offices are public entities under the ADA. Absentee mail voting is a program/service/activity provided by counties, election offices and Secretary of State offices. To date, every lawsuit has been successful. The argument is election offices not offering equal access to absentee mail voting are violating the ADA by failing to provide voters with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the service of absentee mail voting when technologies have been readily available since 2008.
Under the Rehabilitation Act no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall solely by reason of said disability be excluded from the participation in or denied benefits of or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Under the Rehabilitation Act a County public entity, chief election officer is an agent of the County responsible for the administration of elections. They also receive federal financial assistance. Therefore, election officials may be in violation of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to allow blind and disabled voters the opportunity to vote from home privately and independently in the same manner as a non-disabled voter.
Solution: In order to remedy these violations, states have begun to deploy accessible absentee vote by mail solutions. Over the last five years, the availability of proven, secure and accessible absentee mail balloting has enabled voters with disabilities to access and mark mail ballots in a secure, private and independent matter. Similar to UOCAVA MOVE Act ballot delivery systems, these solutions deliver a fully accessible, audio-enabled, secure ballot and ballot materials in a fully ADA-compliant manner. Equal access to voting does not stop at the polls. It also extends to the fastest growing method of voting in the United States, absentee mail balloting.
Analysis by James K. Kracht, Esq. Immediate Past President FCB, an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind & Sheila Young, President FCB.
Use of Windows 10 Devices for Polling Place Ballot Marking
Use Case – Win10 Device as an Accessible Ballot Marking System
Over thirty-five million voters in the U.S. have a disability that limits their ability to cast a private and independent ballot. These voters typically cannot vote a traditional ballot at the polls, or at home due to an array of disabilities. To meet federal and state laws requiring equal access to the ballot, elections officials are required to deploy accessible machines in each voting location. Accessible voting systems currently in the market are nearing their shelf-life and often rely on outdated, proprietary equipment. A big reason voting locations still deploy more expensive, proprietary equipment is COTS, or commercially off-the-shelf, devices did not exist when many of the polling place machines were first purchased.
In 2018, the States of Vermont and New Hampshire deployed a Windows-based COTS ballot marking computer to fully comply with HAVA accessible ballot marking requirements.
Accessible Windows Devices in the Polls
Technology companies have invested heavily in accessible hardware and software. Over 200 million Windows devices and printers have been deployed with the highest levels of accessibility built into each device. The Win10 ballot marking system deployed in Vermont and New Hampshire utilizes current off-the-shelf technologies to ensure voters with disabilities receive the same level of access in the polls as they do in the home using their home computers.
Traditional ballot marking devices, DRE’s or other polling place voting machines can cost between $4,000-$5,000 per machine. By using off-the-shelf devices for accessible ballot marking, the State of Vermont saved more than 40-50% over traditional proprietary polling place machines.
Win10 & Accessibility
For polling place accessible ballot marking, a key requirement was offering the same, universal ballot to all voters at polling places. The goal is that every voter, regardless of disabilities, shall vote by casting the same form of ballot. The Win10 product is a fully accessible ballot marking device able to print the voter’s selections by simply marking the ovals directly on the same pre-printed ballot used by all voters. Ballots are cast and tabulated along with all other ballots – further ensuring the privacy of ballots cast by voters with disabilities.
Accessible polling place and vote by mail
The State of Vermont was able to fully comply with polling place and accessible vote by mail accessibility requirements with a one-stop balloting platform. Vermont is the first State in the nation to use one software solution deployed on both commercially off-the-shelf (COTS) polling place system and the cloud to deliver fully accessible ballots for voters with disabilities.
The ballot marking devices are loaded with the required ballot styles for each election via a USB. All ballots are loaded on each tablet for easy transport to polling locations. The voter, or poll worker, simply selects the correct ballot for the voter. The voter uses accessible, audio navigation tools to listen, mark and print the marks directly onto their ballot. For security purposes, the Win10 polling place system was not connected to the Internet at any time.
Real World Experience
For the 2018 Election cycle, the Win10 solution was deployed on Dell devices in over 700 locations. It is the first accessible balloting system that allows for the same software to be used for accessible polling and accessible vote by mail.
Democracy Live and the States of Vermont and New Hampshire worked with disability groups and advocates to incorporate feedback from voters who regularly use assistive technology. Much of their feedback was incorporated into the system to ensure the highest levels of accessibility for voters with disabilities.
The Democracy Live system deployed in 2018 offered an all-in-one ballot marking, accessible, audio-enabled electronic absentee ballot, and accessible online sample ballot all under one software solution. Both New Hampshire and Vermont saved significant resources, both time and money, with its deployment of the Win10-based ballot marking system. More importantly, Vermont and New Hampshire provided voters with disabilities with an easier, more universally accessible method of casting their votes, privately and independently.
For more information please contact:
Democracy Live, Inc.