Nov. 5, 2002 --
"All of the polling precincts in Columbia and Richmond counties [in Georgia] are accessible for people with disabilities, election officials reported Thursday," says the Augusta Chronicle. (http://augustachronicle.com/stories/103102/met_155-6738.000.shtml ) The Martin Luther King Jr. Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2002, signed into law last week. requires at least one machine in each polling site be accessible, and provides money for enforcement. Advocates say that Augusta's situation so far is the exception, not the rule. Disability groups praised the new law, but warn that the problem with disability voting access laws (there are four others, besides this new one) are often unenforced (http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/voting/electionreformlegis.html). And longtime disability commentator John Williams says candidates once again missed the opportunity to reach out to voters with disabilities in this year's elections. (http://www.at508.com/articles/jw_007.asp)
The new accessible voting machines, when available, will finally give blind voters a way to have a truly secret ballot, something they blind voters have complained about -- and sued over. The machines, though, seemed to stump Florida poll workers in a Sept. 10 election, reports Federal Computer Week's William Matthews. "Thousands of Florida voters arrived at polling places to find new machines that wouldn't start, offered the wrong ballots, recorded the wrong votes or wouldn't record votes at all," he wrote. "But the problems were more often blamed on human error and lack of training than on technology failures." (Read article online at http://www.fcw.com/fcw/articles/2002/0923/mgt-people-09-23-02.asp ).
What's virtually assured is that in most locales voting still won't be easy for people with disabilities this year (read about what happened in 2000 at http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/1100/1100votestory.htm). This year, though, advocates are encouraging disabled voters who run into access problems at the polls to immediately call the toll -free 1-866-VOTE-411 number. You'll be prompted to enter your 5-digit zip code-you can leave a recorded message about the problem you're having-and then you'll be transferred either to a Democratic Party "Promote and Protect" call center or your local County Board of Elections.
Some disabled voters, like ICan's Bethany Broadwell, don't feel it's worth the hassle to go to the polls, and prefer to vote absentee. Read her column at http://www.fcw.com/fcw/articles/2002/0923/mgt-people-09-23-02.asp
Read more about voting, voting lawsuits and studies about voter participation among disabled people at http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/topicsindex.shtml#vot