Vote Trust USA

Do DREs with Paper Ballots Discriminate Against Disabled Voters?
by John Gideon*

Many disabled advocacy groups have spoken out against any voter verified paper ballot system. They claim including a voter verified paper ballot in the voting process violates the rights of disabled voters. How can that be?


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Let me be crystal clear when I say that disabled voters must be accorded all of the same rights as any other American. Those who are able must be allowed to vote; vote without the encumbrance of having to ask for help to get through the process; and vote in secrecy. All polling places must be accessible to the disabled; voting machines must be provided to the disabled community that are accessible, verifiable, and auditable; and resources must be provided to assist disabled voters with their questions regarding voter registration and voting procedures. All qualified Americans must be accorded those rights.

The reader will note that I say „those who are ableš. Not every disabled voter will be able to vote in secrecy, even with the machines that meet the American‚s with Disabilities Act‚s standards. Voters with both sight and hearing disabilities may not be able to use the machines because they cannot use the headphones that are provided for visually impaired voters. That is only one example but the reader should get the point.

Jim Dickson of the American Association of Persons with Disabilities has made a career of testifying before panels, writing opinions, convincing other disability advocacy groups, and lobbying Congress. Mr. Dickson seems to be the loudest critic of a voter verified paper ballot. But Mr. Dickson is wrong in many of his statements against a voter verified paper ballot capability.

The facts are that all presently proposed DRE accessibility technologies, whether federally certified or not, do not require the voter to handle the ballot. The ballot is fed into a „ballot boxš after verification by the voter or is sent to a take-up reel after verification. So, there is no difference in the process for able-bodied voters and disabled voters. They are all treated the same. This does not take into account the many ballot-marking devices where polling place procedures will protect the secrecy of the vote. For instance, technologies that provide a printed and marked ballot to be fed into a precinct based optical scan machine should have secrecy envelopes to guard the secrecy of the ballot.

There is plainly no basis for arguments by the disability community against a voter verified paper ballot. That paper ballot does not affect their ability to vote in secrecy in any way. The only possible argument that disability advocates can make is that they may not be able to verify their ballot like the rest of the voters. This argument is, clearly, baseless.

The Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice has ruled that a direct recording electronic voting system that produces a contemporaneous paper record, which is not accessible to sight-impaired voters but which allows sighted voters to confirm that their ballots accurately reflect their choices before the system officially records their votes, would be consistent with the Help America Vote Act and with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so long as the voting system provides a similar opportunity for sight-impaired voters to verify their ballots before those ballots are finally cast.

It must also be made clear that some disabled advocacy groups are concerned about the reliability of DREs and do not join Mr. Dickson in advocating for their immediate use. A study of disabled voters by the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, Utah found that, „Two thirds of these individuals with disabilities felt that it was more important to wait to purchase the machines until concerns about security, reliability and accountability can be answered than to purchase one accessible voting machine per polling place by November‚s [2004] election.š

A blind voter, Mr. Noel Runyon, who also has a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has reported his experiences voting at his polling place on one vendor‚s disabled-accessible voting machines. This report clearly shows that what some in the disabled community argue is right for the disabled community, others find to be flawed technology. Mr. Runyon‚s report of his experiences can be found here. at:

Clearly, if all voters without disabilities verify their votes and if there are audits done using those ballots to ensure that the machines counted correctly; ALL voters are well served since the machines can be proven to be correct or flawed. If they are found to be flawed ALL paper ballots can then be counted by hand. Essentially my verifying my vote increases the disabled voters‚ certainty that their votes were accurately recorded.

While it is fortunate that the disabled community has a strong lobby, it is unfortunate that they are voicing their uninformed opinions on this issue, stridently at times. Some who are listening to these strident voices are not taking the time to think through the process to realize that what is being said does not make sense at all.

A voter verified paper ballot system protects all voters‚ votes when it is used with random, robust audits of the voting machines or when those ballots are used as the official record of the vote and hand counted.

John Gideon is the Information Manager for VoteTrustUSA and for VotersUnite.Org.

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