Thursday, June 25, 2015

Disability advocate supports multiple accessible voting machines in SB 450 “vote centers”

SB 450, now pending in the California Legislature, would allow counties in the state to move to an all-mail ballot, while also creating “ballot dropoff locations” and “vote centers” to complement the in-home voting process.

Margaret Jakobson-Johnson, Advocacy Director at Disability Rights California, wants to make sure that voters who are “blind, have an intellectual disability, or a manual dexterity disability,” are able to vote “privately, independently, and secretly” under this new system.

For some disabled voters, voting by mail presents insurmountable obstacles, because they can’t see or mark this kind of ballot.  So in order to allow them to vote, the SB 450 vote centers will need to be accessible to the disabled and need to contain specialized voting systems suitable for their needs.  These include audio touchscreens for the visually-disabled and “sip and puff” connectivity for quadriplegics and those with cerebral palsy.  (For more about “sip and puff” “ballot marking devices,” look here.)

As it is currently drafted, SB 450 would require at least one accessible voting booth at each of the vote centers.  Ms. Jakobson-Johnson says that her group has “suggested more than one” accessible voting system be present in these vote centers.  “We are hoping for more,” she told Etopia News.

The SB 450 Working Group consists of representatives of the Secretary of State’s office, state legislators, registrars of voters from Orange, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara Counties, and public advocacy groups, including Ms. Jakobson-Johnson’s Disability Rights California, California Common Cause, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.  Its purpose is to maximize consensus among stakeholders and develop a broadly-acceptable formulation of this significant change to how California conducts elections prior to its official consideration in the legislature.

One issue that remains unresolved within the group is the proper ratio for these vote centers within each county.  The more there are, the easier it will be for voters to use them, but the more it will cost the county to operate them.  Hence, there has been continuing discussion of how to set that ratio. 

One approach would be to require a “one-size-fits-all” ratio based on the number of registered voters in the county.  But California’s 58 counties vary greatly in their demographic and geographic make-up, some being large with relatively-sparse populations, others large with correspondingly large populations, some small with lower population levels.  Ms. Jakobson-Johnson mentioned that the Working Group is now also considering the establishment of a “tiered” system that would specify different ratios for the number of vote centers depending on these factors of population and geography.

She also said the SB 450 Working Group was “a very good group to work with.”  Emphasizing that it was her own opinion and not official writ, she said she expects it to finish its work in time for official hearings on the bill to take place in the “second week of July.”

The next conference phone call-based meeting of the group will be this Friday, June 26th.


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