WATCH: Voting machines provide accessibility but low turnout for voters with disabilities persists

Aug 26, 2015

Seven years ago, New York state implemented new accessible voting systems in the election process. But the Rochester-based Center for Disability Rights remains concerned at the low number of people with disabilities making their way to the polls.

The Ballot Marking Devices were introduced at each polling place. These machines provide increased opportunities for individuals with disabilities to vote privately and independently through the use of interfaces triggered by sound and touch.

(Video after the jump.)

“If a person is unable to use their hands, or for some reason it’s badly damaged, you can put these on the floor and you can navigate through the session using the paddles,” says Linda Cummings, a trainer at the Board of Elections.

Cummings and her colleagues have made themselves available to conduct demonstrations on how the machines work, since more than 425 of them were installed in Monroe County.

Image Cast is a 2-in-1 system. On the opposite side of the Ballot Marking Device, there is also a scanner used to intake the finished ballot. The machine can be configured for use with different attachments, including a “sip and puff” unit for people who use their breath to activate their wheelchairs. 

Image Cast is an accessible voting machine, which includes a Ballot Marking Device and a scanner.
Credit SASHA-ANN SIMONS/WXXI NEWS

“A voter who is paraplegic can have this unit affixed to the machine and it comes with disposable straws. The voter puts on the headset and we have for sanitary purposes changeable earpieces. This allows the voter to respond by sipping, sucking up and blowing out their answer,” says Cummings.

But as convenient as the accessible voting machine sounds, less than half of the voting-age people with disabilities in the state reported casting their ballot in the November 2012 elections.

Ericka Jones from the Center for Disability Rights (CDR) is on a mission to increase those numbers in Rochester, but says there are other concerns.

“It is an obstacle for people to vote if they cannot physically get inside and then there’s an increase of absentee ballots, because they don't want to bother or be a bother,” says Jones.

Jones recently solicited feedback from the CDR community online, where she says an overwhelming majority of the people who responded said they would like to learn about the Ballot Marking Devices.

“Education is a really big part of it. We want to make people comfortable and understand that it is absolutely their right to go and vote,” says Jones.

The Board of Elections will hold an Accessible Voting Machine demonstration at the Center for Disability Rights on August 26.

Watch as the Board of Elections explains how to use the accessible voting machine.