Testimony on the
Voting with Disabilities in the 21st
Bringing Outreach & Education to Court-Ordered
Hearing of the New York City Council
Mental Health, Mental
Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services
June 26, 2006
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.
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.
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.
you for this opportunity to speak, and please let's work towards realizing
elections where voters with disabilities are afforded equal access to the
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: email@example.com