Testimony on the
Voting with Disabilities in the 21st Century:
Bringing Outreach & Education to Court-Ordered HAVA Implementation
Hearing of the New York City Council
Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services
June 26, 2006
Good afternoon. I am Alexander Wood. It's good to be here speaking before the City Council Committees on Governmental Operations & Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services chaired by Simcha Felder & Oliver Koppell, and your colleagues on these Council Committees and its dedicated staff.
This testimony is delivered on behalf of the Disabilities Network of New York City (DNNYC), and its 300 members, including over 60 organizations serving people with disabilities citywide and the approx. 1.5 million New York City residents with disabilities, approx. half of whom have a motor or sensory disability.
Disabilities Network of New York City (DNNYC), a citywide coalition of consumers, advocates and professional organizations representing and working on behalf of people with motor and sensory disabilities seeks to promote full participation of people with physical disabilities in the life of the city by strengthening appropriate citywide policies, resources, services and legal protections; and building informed and accurate public perception about people with disabilities. What better way to work towards full participation of people with disabilities in the life of the city than to ensure that access to the voting booth, an experience that is so elemental in the democratic society in which we live, is accessible to voters who are blind, and to those with disabilities like limited manual dexterity, or any other combination of disabilities that up until this moment in history has prohibited them from casting an independent, secret ballot without the assistance of a family member, friend, or associate who has to be trusted to cast the vote the way they are instructed.
Over the past several months members of the Disabilities Network including CIDNY and New York Lawyers Public for the Public Interest have been trying to meet with John Ravitz and the staff at the NYC Board of Elections. After months of postponed meetings, a last month we succeeded in meeting face-to-face, and the news we hear is good. The NYC Board of Elections is leading the way in the State, despite the dysfunctional legislature in paving the way towards a new voting system. Just last week, we hosted a forum on HAVA, Accessible Voting, the Interim Plan B and the Road Ahead to Full Implementation.
Interesting things emerged from the community at this forum: namely, that on the one hand we should come out in force and demonstrate to the Board of Elections across the State and in the City that voters with disabilities are not content to stay at home and send in an absentee ballot or not vote at all, but that we want, like our non-disabled sisters and brothers, to be visible at polling sites and we want our ballots to be counted: “one ballot, one vote…” on an equal basis.
Others say we should protest this separate and unequal system and vote using the old voting machines, so that our votes are counted along with everyone else’s.
This year, with the Interim Plan for 2006 we will have a separate and unequal system: some 22 ballot marking devices will be distributed to the county board of elections offices around the city, with between 3 and 5 machines at each site, and people with disabilities who want to, and can make the trip, can cast their votes on the new voting systems. It may take up to 40 minutes in the voting booth for a blind voter going through the audio prompts on the ballot. Can you imagine the lines? How many voters can be served on these BMDs?
And when will the ballots be counted? John Ravitz said that by Wed. the week following the election the ballots from the BMDs will be counted along with the absentee ballots, and these votes will be included in the results certified by the Board of Elections. But are the votes cast on accessible voting systems truly equal?
The Board of Elections says that they want to work with the disability community and will demonstrate the new voting systems anywhere they are asked to speak before pockets of likely voters with disabilities around the city. I would like to offer to work with the BOE and the Mayor’s office for people with Disabilities and the individual and organizational members of the Disabilities Network to do the outreach this summer to educate voters with disabilities about their options.
This truly is a historic moment, when we should be celebrating the ability of people who historically have not been able to cast an independent vote, and I cannot wait for the day when we can say we have achieved the most accessible system possible for all disenfranchised voters, and I include our brothers and sisters with language access issues.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak, and please let's work towards realizing elections where voters with disabilities are afforded equal access to the voting booth.
For additional information, contact: Alexander Wood
Disabilities Network of New York City
2 Park Avenue, 2nd fl.
NY NY 10016
T: 212-251-4071 F: 212-696-1039 E: firstname.lastname@example.org