Touch screen not best choice for disabled voters
By ALEDA J. DEVIES
Opinion Daytona Beach News-Journal June 22, 2005
A key point seems to have been lost in the varying and various arguments for and against touch-screen voting machines. The spirit and intent of the accessible voting law are to allow every disabled person the opportunity to cast his or her vote in private. The key word in the preceding sentence is "every." It is not acceptable to accommodate some of the disabled community and expect the rest of us to live with "business as usual." That is discrimination, and it is not legal.
Accommodating people with differing disabilities requires great flexibility in an accessible voting machine. What works for the visually or hearing or cognitively impaired does not necessarily work for people with mobility impairments. That is one specific shortcoming with the touch-screen machines which have been under consideration in Volusia County. People with limited use of their hands and arms may not be able to use the touch-screens. Quadriplegics (people who are disabled from the neck downward like the late actor Christopher Reeve) cannot use a touch-screen in the same way as someone who has use of their hands. They require a sip/puff device which uses air to activate the voting machine, much like one uses a straw to sip a soda.
Federal law mandates accessible voting equipment by Jan. 1, 2006. The State of Florida has chosen to shorten that time frame to July 1, 2005. The six months' difference means fewer accessible equipment options from which to choose, as all voting machines must be certified at the federal level, and then at the state level. Certain fully accessible voting machines (including one which uses the sip/puff device) are undergoing this certification process even as I write. The state should abide by the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline, and allow federal certification to proceed.
The accessible voting machine nearing federal certification which uses a sip/puff mechanism is the same accessible voting machine that Deanie Lowe, retired supervisor of elections, and a number of disabled Volusia County residents evaluated last year. They decided this machine was the best choice with regard to accommodating people across the fullest range of disabilities, and it also provides a voter-verifiable paper trail the same paper ballot non-disabled people in this county use. The "best choice" machine was not the touch-screen machine which is being touted by current county and state election officials.
The County Council was right to kill the touch-screen contract. Why should the county spend money on voting machines that accommodate only a portion of the disabled community? What plan does Ann McFall, current elections supervisor, have to accommodate those of us who can't use touch-screens and still comply with the legal requirement for accessibility? And at what expense will we be accommodated a third type of voting machine at each polling place? And what about the money already spent on last year's voting machine evaluation? Was that money spent for nothing? Am I the only person who remembers the glowing article in The News-Journal announcing this decision last year?
The County Council is to be commended for its courageous stand against partial compliance with the accessible voting law. I know that my councilman, Art Giles, and chairman Frank Bruno understand the import of partial compliance they have heard me speak at various venues on that topic. The other council members who stood with Giles and Bruno share their courage, if not their insight.
County and state election officials should be working actively with their federal counterparts to see that fully accessible voting equipment (which also produces a voter-verifiable paper trail) is available by Jan. 1, 2006. The real issue of equality for all voters has been lost in the battle over the paper trail and the July 1, 2005, deadline. If I, as a person with a mobility-limiting impairment, can't vote in private after January, 2006, why would I care about any paper trail other than the one leading straight to the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division?
Devies, a retired systems engineer, is an activist for the rights of people with disabilities. She lives in Daytona Beach.