Testimony in support of SB 1723


Don't trade flawed Diebold system for disabled access


Dear Committee Members,


I deeply regret that I am unable to testify in person at today's hearing because of serious health problems. Please consider the following as my written testimony. I am writing this letter as a concerned California voter, an attorney, and a woman with multiple disabilities. For purposes of this letter, I am only representing myself, and I do not claim to speak for anyone else.


I have researched and thoughtfully considered the issues regarding electronic voting and I enthusiastically support SB 1723.  I understand that well-meaning advocates are speaking out pronouncing that electronic voting will revolutionize people with disabilities access to voting.


I am particularly offended by the reoccurring claim that people with disabilities are disenfranchised. This is highly inflammatory rhetoric, ignoring the definition of enfranchisement, which is a person's right to vote. When I turned 18, I became enfranchised. Not having the ability to vote without another human being's assistance is the reality that I deal with, but does not make me disenfranchised.  I rely on other people to help me with tasks that I am not physically able to do, but I remain in control and independently thinking the entire time. When voting, I can choose to bring a friend, a family member, or ask one of the well-trained poll workers for assistance.


California voting regulations allow people with disabilities to ask two assistants to help them cast their vote, thereby providing a supervision component. Access to private voting technology will be a wonderful enhancement of my right to vote, but only when such technology is secure and dependable. Because I am blind and I have manual dexterity impairments, I will be an enthusiastic user of the future DRE (touchscreen) system equipped with secure, paper-verified receipts. I have done the research, and I know that such technology is in development with audio transmittal of both the text on the screen and the printer output.


The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires assistive technology be available in wheelchair accessible polling sites by the year 2006. The HAVA Commission's recent report chronicles many problems with DRE systems and fails to provide readily achievable solutions for November election preparation.


The authors of SB 1723 clearly recognized the needs of people with disabilities by requiring the Secretary of State to provide audio-recorded state ballot pamphlets on both audio tapes and CDs. It is my personal experience that assistive technology continues to improve and gain my trust.


A dozen years ago, during law school, I obtained a PC with text-to-speech software, enabling me to hear what appeared on the screen as I wrote papers or did my own legal research on the Internet. After four or five years, this DOS-based system became obsolete as Windows-based, highly-visual systems became industry standard. Then, a couple years later, a text-to-speech Windows-based program came on the market and I was once again able to use my computer.


Now, because of my diminished manual dexterity, I await development of an effective voice-recognition system that will work compatibly with my text-to-speech system. I know that such software is being developed, but I have heard manufacturers say that it is a small market demanding such technology. Therefore, they do not devote many resources to such projects.


In contrast, America Online (AOL) provides their customers with the ability to check their e-mail via telephone, enabling me to listen to my e-mail correspondence. AOL created this useful technology to help their huge customer base check their e-mail remotely, but the advancement also incidentally assisted people with visual impairments.


The DRE systems have a potentially enormous customer base and are being developed rapidly because of this HAVA-inspired market. Providing flawed DRE systems would erode trust among voters with disabilities as well as able-bodied voters in California and throughout the country.  If Californians depend on flawed systems, and California has problems in November, the headlines throughout the country will undoubtedly reflect this horrible fact.


Other disability rights advocates claim that decertification would be a step back, treating people with disabilities as second class citizens. I argue that requiring California voters to use dangerously flawed DREs will be forcing second rate technology on all of us.


I know that DRE system developers are working tirelessly to create dependable secure systems, and I am confident that one day I will be able to vote privately without assistance. However, I refuse to act as a complaining passenger in the backseat asking, are we there yet? I know I will be there soon enough, but I only want to arrive safely and with everyone on board. I know that when SB 1723 is passed, you will be heroes for all the citizens of California, especially voters with disabilities.


Natalie Wormeli, Esq.

Testimony before the California State Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee,

May 5, 2004