Recently New York City’s Board of Elections voted to use lever voting machines in the September 10 mayoral primary and expected runoff, claiming the primary results couldn’t be calculated with optical scan machines in three weeks if a runoff was needed. “Using the lever machines gives us a much greater degree of confidence that we’ll be able to conduct a primary and runoff in the time frame appropriated,” Steven Richman, BOE general counsel told The New York Times. The city will return to the optical scan voting machines for the November general election.
The 2002 Help America Vote Act requires each polling place to have an accessible voting machine for people with disabilities. These machines must provide the same access, privacy and independence that are afforded to all. Lever machines obviously discriminate against some disabled voters. “They went from a system that was mostly accessible to a system that is almost totally inaccessible,” says Julia Pinover, attorney with Disability Rights Advocates.
Ballot Marking Devices will be available for voters with disabilities, but Pinover says they have a history of technical issues and breakdowns and are meaningless if they don’t work. “The case law is very clear that having someone else fill out your ballot for you is not an adequate solution or substitution for casting your own ballot,” she says.
BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vasquez says each polling site will have one operational BMD with features including a sip-and-puff interface, and she disputes the allegations that BMDs are unreliable. During the 2012 election, she says, the machines were used five times and only 5.6 percent of them had to be replaced. Vasquez added that if any issues arise, a technician will quickly be dispatched to troubleshoot.
The casting of a vote is a sacred American right, and technology has made the secret ballot available to millions of people with disabilities. NYC’s BOE has a responsibility to protect this vital right for all its citizens. Failure to do so should be met with legal action.