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Instititute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies


Differently Enabled Americans Call for Election Systems Featuring Both Accessibility and Security


Dale Carrico

Amor Mundi


March 17, 2007


Champions of electronic voting machines often tout their benefits for differently enabled citizens in particular.  Although concerns about the underaccessibility of old voting systems are certainly legitimate (and overdue), too often this rhetoric of improved accessibility has actually functioned as a way of deflecting growing criticism of the extraordinary insecurity of many of the actual systems that have been put in place across the country.


Pushing a rhetoric of enfranchisement for the differently enabled, corporate hucksters and partisan hacks have facilitated disenfranchisement for all, pimpling over the electoral landscape with easily hackable machines that provide no paper trails, systems that can be stealthily manipulated and are incapable of recount should problems arise (even in jurisdictions where such recounts are mandated by law).


A recent statement by Noel Runyan is being endorsed by a growing number of signatories to indicate that many differently enabled people and communities actively oppose the use of Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting systems, that they disapprove of any false suggestion that accessibility and security are somehow at odds with one another as valuable features in any proper voting system, and that they reject the cynical use of the needs for accessibility of differently enabled citizens to undermine the needs for security of all citizens, including, of course, differently enabled ones (however construed).  Here is an excerpt of the statement:


    Voters with disabilities, sensory impairments, and special language needs have long been disenfranchised in large numbers as a result of lack of access to the voting process. For many of us, the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 held tremendous hope and promise for secure and reliable voting, a guarantee that every voter would have access to the voting process.


    Electronic ballot systems such as the direct record electronic (DRE) machines (formerly called “touch screens") now in use have quickly proven to be neither fully accessible to all voters nor secure and accurate methods of recording, tallying, and reporting votes. While the goal of private voting has been achieved by some voters, this has often been without meaningful assurance that our votes have been counted as cast....


    It is now clear that in order to guarantee reliability and security in our elections, it is necessary for the voter to be able to truly verify the accuracy of his or her ballot—the ballot that will actually be counted. The only voting systems that permit truly accessible verification of the paper ballot are ballot marking devices. These non-tabulating devices, either electronic or non-electronic, assist the voter in marking and verifying votes on paper ballots that can either be optically scanned or hand-counted. (Some DRE voting machines that have already been purchased may be adapted to be used as acceptable ballot marking devices, assuming their accessibility can be preserved or improved.)


    The technology for inexpensively providing good accessibility to voting systems has been commonly available for more than a decade, and it can and should immediately be required for and applied to all modern voting systems....


    We leaders and members of the disability rights community assert that neither accessibility for all voters nor the security of the vote can be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Fortunately, true accessibility and election security can both be achieved; there is no inherent incompatibility between voting system accessibility and security.


    We recognize that electronic ballot systems are inappropriate for use, because these systems make it impossible for voters to verify that their votes will be counted as cast. We call upon all disability rights groups, other civil rights groups, election protection groups, and elected officials to recognize the necessity for an immediate ban on any voting system that fails to meet the twin requirements of full accessibility and election security. Dale Carrico Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET and a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Carrico blogs at Amor Mundi.



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