Friday, June 26, 2015

Victory for disabled California voters as SB 450 Working Group agrees to double the required number of “accessible voting systems” in new “vote centers”

SB 450, now pending in the California State Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee, would replace the current election model of one neighborhood polling place for every 1,000 registered voters with the option at the county level for an all-mail ballot, with “ballot dropoff locations” and “vote centers” for those who want to drop their ballots off instead of mailing them and for those who want or need to vote in-person, respectively.

One reason why some voters may want to use these vote centers to cast their ballot is that, being disabled, they require assistive voting equipment, including audio-equipped systems for the blind and visually-impaired and “sip and puff”-connectable systems for those who cannot use their arms to perform the voting act.

Margaret Jakobson-Johnson is the Advocacy Director for Disability Rights California and a member of the SB 450 Working Group, which consists of representatives of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, county election officials, state legislators, and public advocacy groups, including her own, and whose goal is to reach consensus on the content of this bill before it has its public hearing in the California Assembly.  She recently told Etopia News that she and her organization wanted the group to provide in its consensus version of the bill for more than the single “accessible voting systems”/disabled-compliant system originally called for.

You can read more about this here.

Today, as she was leaving her office, Ms. Jakobson-Johnson revealed that the SB 450 Working Group had agreed at its phone conference-based meeting earlier in the day to require two, rather than one, “accessible voting systems” in each of the vote centers to be established under the provisions of SB 450.

Adding another accessible voting system to each polling place will double the through-put capability for assisting disabled voters in their efforts to cast a private, independent, and secret vote.

She said nothing about another, still-unresolved issue:  namely, how many of these vote centers themselves are to be required to be established under the law.  Not yet determined is the ratio, or set of tiered ratios, that participating counties will need to meet for establishing a certain number of vote centers according to the number (and possibly the distribution) of registered voters in a county.

Etopia News reached out today to SB 450 Working Group members representing the Secretary of State, Senator Robert M. Hertzberg, Registrars of Voters for Santa Barbara, Orange, and Sacramento Counties, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Disability Rights California, the latter two public advocacy stakeholders in the discussion.

After all that outreach, the only shred of information gleaned about what happened at today’s SB 450 Working Group meeting was that from Ms. Jakobson-Johnson that consensus had been reached on the number of accessible voting systems in each vote center.  No word about consensus on vote center-to-voter ratios has leaked from the Working Group.  It continues its relatively-opaque workings as June slides into July and the bill slips even further below the public’s radar.  It is officially scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee on July 1st, but it is understood that it will be heard once consensus is reached among the various stakeholders, with that agreement expected anything between now and the middle of July. 

Etopia News will continue its efforts to bring to light the details of this major transition in voting arrangements that could significantly influence the shape of California electoral politics starting in the crucial election year of 2018 and for years to come.  It may be an obscure and opaque working group, but it will nevertheless have a big impact.  Readers, and especially the registered California voters among them, deserve to be informed about it, and that’s the purpose of this coverage.

Etopia News has tried, and hitherto failed, to ascertain the number, let alone the distribution, of disabled voters within the state of California, as a prelude to calculating the cost-effectiveness of accessible voting systems in the vote centers in delivering private, independent, and secret voting affordances to disabled voters.  Big Data analysis can’t proceed without basic data about the factors it’s trying to measure and understand.  Perhaps the California Department of Rehabilitation will have these figures.  Stay tuned.

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